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Signs honoring Harriet Tubman installed in Wyman Park Dell, where Confederate statues once stood

From left, Mike Aldi and Taylor Schmidt, installers with Color-Ad Signs and Exhibits, work to place one of two signs in Wyman Park Dell naming a section of the park Harriet Tubman Grove. The Friends of Wyman Park Dell are placing the markers, one honoring Tubman and the other telling the story of the monument, near the site of the Jackson and Lee Monument which was removed in 2017. September 14, 2020.
From left, Mike Aldi and Taylor Schmidt, installers with Color-Ad Signs and Exhibits, work to place one of two signs in Wyman Park Dell naming a section of the park Harriet Tubman Grove. The Friends of Wyman Park Dell are placing the markers, one honoring Tubman and the other telling the story of the monument, near the site of the Jackson and Lee Monument which was removed in 2017. September 14, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

More than two years ago, the place in Baltimore City’s Wyman Park Dell where statues of Confederate generals once stood was renamed Harriet Tubman Grove in honor of the celebrated abolitionist.

But, shortly thereafter, organizers realized there was a problem.

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“A lot of people don’t realize that’s Harriet Tubman Grove because there’s nothing to indicate that,” said Cailin McGough, president of the Friends of Wyman Park Dell.

On Monday, though, workers installed signage featuring Tubman’s biography, the history of the statue of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and the history of monument installations and removals in Wyman Park Dell. That sign also includes images of Tubman and her local descendant Ernestine Jones-Williams, who attended the grove’s dedication ceremony in 2018.

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The sign also includes discussion questions meant to prompt conversations among visitors, McGough said, like: “This site has been used to honor combatants from both sides of the Civil War. What do different sides view as ‘worth remembering?’"

In 1959, the Union Soldiers and Sailors monument was relocated to the dell.

“We wanted it to be a little bit provocative,” McGough said. “The goal with the sign is to start conversations.”

Organizers decided to include a timeline of different monuments placed in the dell to acknowledge the history of the space.

“When there were conversations about the monument being removed, some people said, ‘A monument is history. It needs to stay in the park,’" McGough said. “Something that we wanted to share was the fact that monuments have come and gone from the park.”

To install the sign, the Friends of Wyman Park Dell received a $7,800 federally funded grant from the Baltimore National Heritage Area, a group that provides programming and grant funding for historic preservation in the city. The Friends of Wyman Park Dell collaborated with the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, in addition to the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, on the project.

“When they submitted their application, and said what their intentions were, which is to basically showcase and call out the controversial, and renaming it to something that is more relevant to the state of Maryland like Harriet Tubman, we were delighted to see that,” said Shauntee Daniels, executive director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who assisted with the dedication of Harriet Tubman Grove, said the signs cement the spot in Wyman Park Dell as a place to reflect on the historical figure’s legacy.

“We’re very proud of it,” Clarke said. “We think it matches the hope she brought and the peace she brought, and the place is a place where people come to sit and just be with each other, and just to reflect.”

Harriet Tubman Grove is the first public space dedicated to Tubman’s life in Baltimore City, one of the new signs states.

The Jackson and Lee monument, which was placed in the park in 1948, was removed by Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration in 2017. The removal came shortly after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to the death of a counter-protester, sparking national conversations about the history of the Confederacy, and local petitions to remove Baltimore’s Confederate monuments.

Four Confederate monuments were taken down in Baltimore overnight.

“With the sign, we’re also really looking to tell the story of the origins of the Confederate monument,” McGough said. “This was installed at a time when the city was enforcing housing segregation and it was a part of an effort to promote a story about the Civil War that was really rooted in white supremacy.”

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