Baltimore removes a stain from our public square

After years of foot-dragging, Baltimore is finally rid of its Confederate statues. Their removal in the dead of night — a surprise move by Mayor Catherine Pugh — does not erase the legacy of racism they represented, but it does reflect our rejection of it. Monuments to those who fought to split our nation and protect the institution of slavery should have had no place in this city when they were erected, and they certainly don’t now.

Though some questioned why Ms. Pugh had not acted long ago to remove the statues, pursuant to a commission’s report that her predecessor sat on for months, she deserves enormous credit for removing them at a time of incredible tension over such symbols in a way that attracted little attention and gave no chance for the kind of violence we saw in Charlottesville last weekend. In an interview with The Sun’s editorial board Monday she affirmed her intention to remove the statues, but gave no hint that any action was in the offing. However, she said she had been in contact with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about his experience in removing that city’s Confederate statues and intended to heed his advice to proceed in a way that does as little as possible to stoke the passions of those who would save the monuments.

At that, she surely succeeded. We cannot say what the future will hold, and we must certainly remain vigilant against any sort of retaliatory protests, but Ms. Pugh has already removed a potent rallying point for the sorts of white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville.

Moreover, it is clear that the city and state are increasingly united in a resolve to stop venerating symbols of the Confederacy. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, moved two years ago to rename Robert E. Lee Park. In March, Frederick County — which has a Republican mayor and a Democratic majority Board of Aldermen — removed from outside City Hall a bust of Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision. Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, and the County Council, which has a Democratic majority, are discussing plans to move a Confederate monument outside the Circuit Court building in Ellicott City. And House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, proposed this week to remove a statue of Taney from the State House grounds.

The Taney statue at the State House has long been a source of controversy. A quarter-century ago, an effort to remove it was blunted by a compromise in which a much more prominent statue of former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was erected on the other side of the State House. For years, many — this editorial board included — considered that a fitting resolution to the issue, showing as it did the arc of Maryland’s history from a time when one of its sons could deny citizenship to any who had been slaves to a time when another could successfully argue that separate could never be equal.

But times change. After Mr. Busch announced his support for removal, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, also a Democrat and a historical traditionalist, said he would consent to the move if Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, agreed. He did. “While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” the governor said in a statement.

We could not have put it better ourselves.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was reasserting his claim that the neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups involved in the Charlotte violence were no more to blame than those who protested them. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?” the president asked Tuesday about the counter-protesters. “Do they have any problem? I think they do.” He added that the press had treated the marchers in the “Unite the Right” rally “absolutely unfairly.”

What better rebuke than what has happened in Baltimore and Annapolis in the last few days? While the president fanned the flames of division, Maryland’s leaders across the political spectrum were calmly and resolutely moving toward putting a painful issue to rest. Taking down Confederate monuments does not excise racial animus from our society. But it does reaffirm our eternal quest for a more perfect union.

Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad