Statues didn't belong in public spaces; now what?

Community Times

Near Main Street and Cockeys Mill Road in Reisterstown stands the historic Community Cemetery. It contains remains of the town's founder (John Reister) and many of its early citizens from the 18th and 19th centuries — including seven Civil War grave sites — four Union soldiers and three Confederate soldiers.

Today, it is a peaceful place of remembrance.

But what if a bronze sculpture of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson on horseback were erected near the graves of the three Rebel soldiers?

Would that be a fitting and appropriate site for that bronze statue?

What if the Reisterstown Library next door displayed at its entrance a bust of Roger B. Taney, the Maryland chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision that declared African Americans could never become U.S. citizens because they were inferior to whites?

Would that in any way be an appropriate site?

This, in a nutshell, is the debate raging throughout the nation following President Trump's inflammatory comments many took to equate racist, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups rallying in Charlottesville, Va., with anti-fascist, liberal counter-protesters. The groups were reacting to plans to replace a statue of Lee in a public park.

Almost immediately, both Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh decided to remove Confederate statues on display in public places because they were deeply offensive to many and contained undertones of racism and white supremacy that are repugnant and unacceptable.

The two leaders are being criticized by both far-right and some groups on the far left. Yet, they acted wisely and rapidly to avert violence.

The Lee-Jackson statue, formerly located in the Wyman Park Dell near the Baltimore Museum of Art, was misplaced from the start. Neither Lee nor Jackson fought in the vicinity of Baltimore during the war. Both were traitors to the Union and sought through violent means to tear the country apart.

Reserving a place of honor for them in a public park was a bad initial decision that now has been reversed.

At the same time, the mayor made it clear she will not engage in modern-day book burning (melting down the statue) as gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous demanded.

The Lee-Jackson monument is in storage, along with a bust of Chief Justice Taney and two other Confederate monuments. They will be relocated to places where they are historically appropriate, such as Confederate cemeteries, Civil War museums or battlefields.

Hogan struggled over the best way to proceed, finally deciding the racist nature of Taney's Dred Scott decision made it impossible to keep his bronze statue on the State House grounds.

Yet, the Taney works of art deserve a place in a museum or judicial setting where the chief justice's contributions, good and evil, can be placed in perspective.

Before the 1857 Dred Scott decision (which six other justices concurred in), Taney was a towering figure on the national scene.

The Marylander, who previously had been a state legislator and state attorney general, became a key member of President Andrew Jackson's "kitchen cabinet" as attorney general and treasury secretary.

He then served 28 years on the Supreme Court, crafting landmark decisions on commercial law and the rights of elected state legislatures.

Just as these statues don't belong in the Reisterstown cemetery or the town's library, they don't belong in public places in Baltimore or Annapolis.

We need to find more appropriate sites for those Civil War-era bronzes and then turn our attention to another intriguing question: What statues should be commissioned to replace them?

Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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