Two monuments that celebrate Confederate-era leaders should be removed from Baltimore's public parks, a mayoral task force recommended Thursday.
The seven-member commission, appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to consider what to do with Baltimore's four Confederate-era monuments, voted narrowly to remove two of them. The mayor must now make a final decision.
University of Maryland law professor Larry S. Gibson, a commission member, proposed the plan to remove the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell.
Gibson said Taney's statute should be dismantled because his authorship of the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision was "pure racism." The decision held that African-Americans could not be American citizens.
"In my view, he deserves a place in infamy," Gibson said of the fifth chief justice of the United States.
Gibson also argued that Baltimore has a disproportionate number of monuments to the Confederacy on its public property. He said that more than twice as many Marylanders fought for the Union as the Confederacy during the Civil War, but the city has only one public monument to the Union.
"Three monuments to the Confederacy is out of proportion," Gibson said. "Probably a majority of Baltimoreans think there should be none to the Confederacy."
The commissioners recommended that the statute of Lee and Jackson be offered to the U.S. Park Service to place in Chancellorsville, Va. The two Confederate generals last met in person shortly before the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.
The commission voted to keep the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway, but to add context. Members said they needed to meet again to decide exactly what context they wanted to add.
Commission member Elford Jackson, a civil engineer and member of Baltimore City Public Arts Commission, argued that he wanted to see more art in Baltimore, not less.
"They are pieces of art," he said of the statutes. "Do they have a negative connotation? They sure do."
The task force voted 4-3 to remove the two monuments and 6-1 to keep the other two.
Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, created the task force in June after nine African-Americans were shot to death in a South Carolina church allegedly by a white man whose photograph with the Confederate battle flag was widely circulated online.
The shooting led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse and calls for other changes, including the possible renaming of city-owned Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore County. That proposal is before the City Council.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has moved to stop the state from issuing license plates bearing images of the Confederate battle flag. The New Orleans City Council voted last month to remove four Confederate monuments from public places.
Although Taney, a Marylander, was not a Confederate fighter, his authorship of the Dred Scott decision brought him into the commission's purview. Gibson argued that the Baltimore statue is merely a copy of a monument that sits in Annapolis.
"Roger B. Taney is a monument that symbolizes racism," said commission member Donna Cypress, director of library services at Lincoln College of Technology and member of Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
"The Taney monument is the most offensive," said commission member Mary Demory, who serves on the Baltimore City Public Arts Commission.
Six of the seven commissioners are African-Americans. The commissioners plan to submit their recommendations to the mayor in a formal report.
"The mayor looks forward to seeing their formal report and explanation for their recommendations," said mayoral spokesman Howard Libit. "Then we'll make a decision."
Johns W. Hopkins, the director of Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit dedicated to preservation, said the organization supports the process Rawlings-Blake has created.
"Our position is very much in support of the thoughtful and deliberate way to decide what to do with these monuments," Hopkins said. "We think that's important public discussion to have."
Alexander E. Hooke, a philosophy professor at Stevenson University, has described the statute of Lee and Jackson as a "stunning sculpture," and compared it to artwork "one might find in Paris or Vienna." He has argued that the monuments should remain as a "teachable moment" for passers-by.
He called the vote Thursday "very sad."
"What's next?" he asked. "Go to Mount Rushmore and put a blanket over Washington and Jefferson?"
The Civil War, in which more than 700,000 people died, was fought largely over slavery. As war raged on, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederacy "are, and henceforward shall be free."