The case for removing Baltimore’s monuments to the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and to Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney — author of the infamous Dred Scott decision — has long been clear. Both were products of post-Civil War romanticization of the Confederacy and of the subjugation of African-Americans. They had no place here when they were erected (in 1948 and 1887, respectively), and they definitely have no place in 21st century Baltimore.
But the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, when neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other deplorables gathered to protest the removal of Confederate statutes there, makes the case irrefutable. Those who objected to the recommendation of a city task force to get rid of the Lee/Jackson and Taney statues argued that they represented a reality of Baltimore’s history that should not be ignored. The truth is, they remain a powerful symbol of bigotry here and now. The racists who marched in Virginia — one of whom is accused of plowing his car into a crowd of protesters, injuring 19 and killing one — were not there to ensure that we atone for the legacy of slavery and state-sponsored oppression. They were there to venerate it and to advocate the return to a time when whites could count on dominance as their birthright.
We are heartened to hear Mayor Catherine Pugh say today that she is moving forward with the removal of those two statues and is considering the removal of two others that a commission formed by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recommended, on a divided vote, to keep with the addition of proper contextualizing signage. She should get rid of all four because they all reflect ex post facto glorification of the Confederate cause.
There is nothing wrong with commemorating the fact that soldiers from Baltimore fought on both sides of the Civil War. That is important context for any present day resident of the city to know. But the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women’s Monument near Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus both include overt imagery designed to sanctify the Confederate cause as not just right but holy. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument includes the inscriptions "gloria victis, " meaning glory to the vanquished, and "deo vindice, " the Confederate States of America motto, which means "God our vindicator." The Confederate Women’s Monument, the commission’s report notes, is in the style of a classic "representation of the Virgin Mary holding the dying body of Christ," and the bed of wheat the wounded soldier in the monument lies on is a "symbol of sacrifice and resurrection."
What this weekend’s violence in Charlottesville makes clear is that the impulse to venerate the Confederacy and all the ill it stood for is not a relic of our past. It is present today, and those who may have previously harbored it in secret are increasingly emboldened to express it in public.
The debate over Baltimore’s Confederate statues has gone on far too long. It was inexcusable that Mayor Rawlings-Blake didn’t take action, and Mayor Pugh should have committed to their removal immediately after taking office. It’s mind boggling that Frederick — where Taney is actually from — managed to remove its bust of the justice before Baltimore did. House Speaker Michael E. Busch today threw his support behind the effort to remove the statue of Taney from the State House grounds; we certainly hope Mayor Pugh can manage to get rid of Baltimore’s statues before that happens.
To that end, we appreciate the concern Ms. Pugh expressed at a Sun editorial board meeting today over an idea backed by some members of the City Council to destroy the statues rather than relocate them. She’s right that not only would doing so present logistical and legal hurdles, but that it would make Baltimore a magnet for the kind of white supremacist protests that roiled Charlottesville. A thousand people from across the region marched on the Lee/Jackson statue on Sunday to send the message that racism is something we will not tolerate and that its symbols have no place in our public square. We need to heed their message and get rid of these statues now.
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