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Confederate action plan: Melt Taney, move Jackson-Lee, honor Tubman or Douglass

After a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. turned violent, leaders in Baltimore are calling for the removal of the city's Confederate-era monuments.

With consensus building to remove or destroy all four of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore — and a call to do the same with the statue of Roger B. Taney in Annapolis — allow me to float, again, some ideas I first suggested in January 2016.

That was shortly after a seven-member mayoral commission recommended that the city get rid of the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell as well as the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place.

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The Lee-Jackson monument honors two Confederate generals from Virginia who led armies against the Union to preserve slavery in the South. Taney, a native Marylander, was Chief Justice of the United States and author of the majority opinion in the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, stating that black men "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

The Civil War ended in 1865. Taney's monument in Mount Vernon is from 1887, and the Lee-Jackson dedication took place in 1948. They were both part of a revisionist propaganda campaign that claimed the Civil War was about state's rights, not preserving slavery, and a noble "lost cause." Some 3,000 people attended the Lee-Jackson dedication, many of them waving Confederate flags, and the Maryland governor at the time, William Preston Lane Jr., said Lee and Jackson "best typify the gallantry and statesmanship of the Confederacy."

That was then, this is now.

If we're going to dedicate public space for monuments, then the historical figures we celebrate should be deserving of our respect, and maybe have some local meaning. There is plenty of room in history books for those who fought for the South; they do not need to be memorialized in perpetuum in Baltimore.

Here are some suggestions for Mayor Catherine Pugh, things the mayor could pull off relatively quickly with a couple of the monuments, the ones recommended 20 months ago for removal.

  • Melt Taney. The statue of that learned old racist is made of bronze, which has a relatively low melting point of 1,675 degrees Fahrenheit. Surely the city can find a foundry to melt Roger and turn him into coins honoring two other Marylanders, abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. The mayor could organize a contest for coin designs, announce a winner next year and have the coins made from Taney bronze.
Baltimore artist Joe Sheppard created this statue of Frederick Douglass as a possible replacement for the Taney monument.
Baltimore artist Joe Sheppard created this statue of Frederick Douglass as a possible replacement for the Taney monument. (Joseph Sheppard/Handout)
  • The city could sell the coins and give the proceeds to a good cause — the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, for instance. People all over the country would want those coins because of what they represent.
  • Profits from the sale of the coins could also go to a new statue of Tubman or Douglass to replace Taney. The pedestal in Mount Vernon can be used again. Last year, the prominent sculptor Joe Sheppard created a Douglass statue and proposed it as a replacement for Taney. The sculpture, available at either six feet or nine feet, presents a stoic Douglass, a book in his right hand, standing with a barefoot boy, telling him: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
  • As striking as Sheppard’s Douglass is, the next statue that goes up in Baltimore probably should be one of Tubman, a woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Last I checked, we do not have a Tubman statue in the city, while there are a couple of Douglass.
  • Give the Jackson-Lee statue to the National Park Service; the NPS can install it at the Chancellorsville battlefield in Virginia, where the two Confederate generals last met. (The Wyman Park statue supposedly depicts Jackson and Lee on the eve of the 1863 battle.) If the NPS does not want the statue — there are apparently some bureaucratic issues with taking a monument that was not created for a national park — then the city can stick it in a warehouse somewhere until we figure out what to do with it.
  • Or melt it down and create a big bronze of Abraham Lincoln. Last I checked, we don’t have one.
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