With 3 months left in office, Rawlings-Blake still considering action on Confederate monuments

Mayor to add signs to Baltimore's Confederate monuments, but delays decision on recommendation to remove two.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a "short-term" solution Wednesday to dealing with Baltimore's Confederate monuments: installing "interpretive signage" to add historical context while she considers what to do next.

The move gives her less than three months before she leaves office to decide what to do with the four monuments that stand on city property.

A commission appointed by Rawlings-Blake last year to study the monuments recommended in January that two be removed.

"I don't think any of the commission members were interested in erasing or rewriting history," Rawlings-Blake said. "But we certainly should work to interpret for today's context."

The memorials include the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway, 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.

The commission recommended getting rid of the Taney statue and the tribute to Lee and Jackson. It recommended altering the other two monuments to include etchings with historical details.

Larry S. Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor who served on the seven-member commission, said Rawlings-Blake's inaction could be seen as an attempt to "let the clock run out" on her term.

Gibson said the commission worked promptly and in good faith to address the questions before it. Now the answer is easy: "Removing the Roger Brooke Taney monument would take one day. It would take one day and a truck to remove the Lee and Jackson monument."

Rawlings-Blake called adding signs a "practical solution to a complicated issue."

She said she must consider the city's fiscal constraints.

"There's a vote to remove it, and then there's the ability to remove it," she said. "You need the funds and you need the relocation.

"Everyone can say, 'You should remove them all and put them in one big Confederate monument park,' but who's paying for it?"

The commission recommended the Lee and Jackson statue be offered to the National Park Service to place in Chancellorsville, Va., where the two Confederate generals last met in 1863.

The commission called for the Taney statue to be discarded. Taney, the Marylander who served as the fifth chief justice of the United States, wrote the notorious Dred Scott decision, which held African-Americans could not be U.S. citizens.

The group said adding historical information to the two additional Confederate tributes would help the public better understand their context.

Rawlings-Blake created the commission in June 2015 amid a national discussion about symbols of the nation's racist past.

The discussion was provoked by the shooting deaths of nine African-Americans in a historically black South Carolina church, allegedly by a white man who had posted photographs of himself with the Confederate battle flag.

Dylann Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder and federal hate crimes violations.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan stopped the state from issuing license plates with the image of the Confederate battle flag. Baltimore County officials moved to change the name of Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

Rawlings-Blake said she wants the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to work with stakeholders to install interpretive signs at all four monuments. She directed the commission to work with the city's Office of Promotion and the Arts to consider viable relocation proposals, if the city receives any.

Aaron Bryant, chairman of the commission that reviewed the monuments, said it was unclear exactly what the signs would say.

"You look at the larger historical context of the Civil War," he said, then consider "how these monuments represent Baltimore's history."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young believes Rawlings-Blake is taking the right steps, a spokesman said.

"It's a start of a conversation that is going to carry over into the next administration," spokesman Lester Davis said. "This is a situation that deserves more thoughtful deliberation, not less."

Alan Walden, the Republican nominee for mayor, said he would leave the four monuments "exactly where they are." He questioned the wisdom in adding signs.

"Why? What kind of signs? What would they say? It's part of American history," Walden said. "You can't rewrite history to make people feel good."

Joshua Harris, the Green Party nominee, said removing the two statues recommended by the task force would be a step toward repairing the damage done by Baltimore's "long history of racial divisiveness." He questioned spending money on signs now if the monuments are to be removed later.

"Money is not available to remove them, but we're going to put money up to put signs up?" Harris said.

Catherine Pugh, the Democratic nominee, could not be reached for comment.

Gibson said the commission issued the recommendations after careful deliberations, multiple meetings and public testimony.

"I am disappointed," he said Wednesday. He said Baltimore has a disproportionate number of Confederate monuments dating from the Lost Cause era when sympathizers portrayed the Confederate cause as heroic.

About 65,000 Marylanders fought for the Union; 22,000 fought for the Confederacy.

Baltimore has one public monument to the Union.

The Taney and Lee and Jackson statues have no value in Baltimore, Gibson said. The task force concluded that the other two, however, should remain as educational tools.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead, an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland, said Rawlings-Blake's decision leaves much unsettled.

Lost in the decision, Whitehead said, are the people affected by the statues when they encounter them, the opportunity to educate younger generations and a chance to help Baltimore overcome its past.

But she said leaving the issue to the next mayor would create an opportunity.

"These are big issues to wrestle with: These monuments, the signage, moving them around," Whitehead said. In taking on the challenge, she said, the next mayor would help "shape where this city is going to go."

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