Four years of demonstrations against the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans for holding their annual salute to Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday appears to have paid off for those who took offense at the timing of the commemorations in Baltimore’s Wyman Park.
The Sons, who for decades marched under the Confederate flag in re-enactor gray, did not post Saturday morning for their traditional gathering at the large monument to Jackson and Lee. Nor did the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It might have been the first time since the 1940s that some kind of ceremony in sympathy to the Southern cause in the Civil War was not held there.
But about 50 demonstrators stood at the base of the monument and across Art Museum Drive, on the lookout for the Confederate groups and prepared to protest their annual ceremony.
The event has been held on the third Saturday of January for years, pinning it close to the birthdays of Lee (Jan. 19) and Jackson (Jan. 21). That it also occurs on the weekend of the King holiday, when the nation remembers its greatest civil rights leader, is what prompted a group of Baltimore Quakers to start a silent protest in 2013.
While some demonstrators see the Confederate groups as racist and want them to go away completely, the Quakers just wanted the event moved to another weekend. Ann Kehinde, who has lived near the park since 1994, organized the Quaker demonstrations.
Turns out that, unbeknownst to Kehinde, the Confederate groups had decided to move the event to next Saturday, Jan. 23, to avoid a confrontation with protesters.
But, at some point in the fall, they canceled it, according to Carolyn Billups, president of the Daughters, who cited “the current climate” as a factor in the decision. She also said organizers had difficulty securing a city permit for the event and were concerned about safety.
“I think it’s a damn shame that we are not allowed to honor our heritage,” said Billups, reached by phone at home on Saturday. “Just think of the response if people were not allowed to commemorate Martin Luther King Day or not go to his statue in the District of Columbia.”
Once it became clear that the annual ceremony would not take place, the demonstrators expressed satisfaction. “I feel great,” said Kehinde. “I like to think [the Confederate groups] had a change of heart. ... The Quakers just asked that they change the date. But personally, I hope they will not hold [the ceremony] again at all.”
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Betty Robinson, a local leader of a group called Showing Up For Racial Justice. “There are lots of blacks and whites organizing for racial justice, and it’s more obvious now because of the [Baltimore] uprising. People are really looking at the city and justice issues. It’s time we put our old, ugly past to bed.”
Bill Miles, whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy, joined the Quaker demonstrators. The Lee-Jackson monument, recommended last week for removal from the city by a mayoral commission, is a “locus for neo-Confederate sentiments,” Miles said. “Those who gather around it and use it as a touchstone are revisionists.”
Miles and others believe Confederate groups subscribe to an alternative history that denies the Civil War was fought over slavery.
Last year, Jay Barringer, Maryland division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told a Sun reporter that the ceremony at the Lee-Jackson monument was about heritage. “We get sometimes very inappropriately branded because of what our ancestors did as their duty,” he said. “We get called racists, and nothing could be further from the truth."
Barringer did not return phone calls Saturday. I asked Billups if she thought the groups would try to stage their ceremony in Baltimore next January. “We’ll see,” she said.