Baltimore’s Confederate monuments, removed from the public in the dead of night more than two years ago, remain in a city-owned lot awaiting uncertain future

Baltimore’s Confederate monuments, removed from their pedestals in the dead of night more than two years ago, remain stashed out of sight in a city-owned lot, awaiting an uncertain future.

After crews took down the four bronze statues under orders from then-Mayor Catherine Pugh in August 2017, suggestions for what to do with them ranged from destroying them to restoring them to their plinths. Instead, they’ve stood hidden from the public inside a small pen made of Jersey barriers, while officials determine what’s next for them.

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A museum expressed interest in acquiring the bronze statues, but they were too large, and the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans still wants them returned to their platforms, said Eric Holcomb, division chief of the city’s Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation. He declined to name the interested museum, which he said has asked to remain anonymous.

“We are looking for organizations that will care for them, that will [provide] the most historically accurate interpretation,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “Everything’s on the table, but we’re looking to make sure they’re kept and interpreted accurately.”

A spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not respond to requests for comment

In a surprise move that made national news, Pugh ordered the four monuments taken down from their pedestals “quickly and quietly" to avoid any clashes like the one days earlier in Charlottesville, Virginia. In that event, a counterprotester had been killed and two police officers had died in a helicopter crash during a Neo-Nazi rally to save a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Lee-Jackson Monument in Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway, and the Roger B. Taney Monument in Mount Vernon, had been installed from 1887 to 1948. They had previously come under scrutiny in 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine African Americans in a domestic terror attack at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

(While he did not join the Confederacy, Taney infamously wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision, upholding slavery in the lead-up to the Civil War, as chief justice of the Supreme Court.)

After removing the statues, Pugh suggested adding historical markers to the empty pedestals explaining the significance of the monuments — and the reasons for their removal. As for what to do with the statues themselves, she mentioned the possibility of moving them to a Confederate cemetery. Nothing came of either idea.

Brandon Scott, now City Council president and a candidate for mayor, suggested melting down the bronze monuments and molding them into statues of prominent Baltimoreans, such as Clarence “Du” Burns, the city’s first black mayor, or legendary abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

If someone wants to buy them from the city, they should be sold, and the profits should fund scholarships for low-income students, he said.

“I would want to do something that helps benefit Baltimore,” Scott said Wednesday. “That’s what this is about for me, turning darkness into light.”

Terry Klima, commander of the Maryland division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said in 2017 that the monuments “should go back exactly where they were found.” Criticizing the monuments’ removal as an arbitrary attempt to erase history, the group has called on the Maryland Historical Trust to overrule Pugh’s directive and restore the Confederate statues to their pedestals. Klima could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The city preservation commission is required to regularly update the Maryland Historical Trust on its progress in finding homes for the monuments, said David Buck, a spokesman for the state Department of Planning.

The most recent correspondence, on July 5, mentioned CHAP staff members had briefed the mayor’s office on their work, Holcomb said, but no home for the monuments had been found.

The Historical Trust and the city “are working cooperatively to make the monuments accessible to the public in an appropriate setting,” Buck said in a statement.

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Lawrence Brown, associate professor in Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy, said Wednesday that the statues belong in a museum exhibit examining the white supremacist roots of the post-Civil War veneration of the Confederacy.

Short of that, he said, “destroy them.”

Brown said he is more concerned with what replaces the dethroned monuments on their still-empty pedestals around the city.

He suggested creating monuments to black Union soldiers; to African American civil rights leaders in Baltimore; and to the scores of people who were sold into slavery in the city.

Even a memorial of the Pratt Street Riot in 1861, in which Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore drew the first blood of the Civil War by attacking Union soldiers passing through the city, would provide important historical context for the subsequent riots of 1968 and 2015, after the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Freddie Gray, respectively, Brown said.

“Understanding the Pratt Street riot and contextualizing it helps us understand why the city is so prone to violence and uprisings,” he said. “It’s in Baltimore’s DNA. You’re not going to get to the root of that if you don’t understand how it all started. ... You can’t solve today’s pressing problems by ignoring the past.”

Corey Brooks, associate professor of history at York College in Pennsylvania, researched the origins of the Confederate statues after noticing the Taney monument in Mount Vernon when he lived in Baltimore.

“Nostalgia for the Confederacy and public monuments commemorating supposed heroes of the Confederate ‘lost cause’ emerged in concert with widespread postbellum efforts to shore up white supremacy,” Brooks wrote in a piece that ran in Maryland Historical Magazine in 2017.

Baltimore’s residents should be given a say in the decision about what happens to the monuments, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“It seems to me whatever is going to be done with [the monuments] should be done as part of an inclusive process of community engagement," he said. “How do we want to tell these stories, not just that Taney was a force for promoting systems of racism in Civil War-era America, but also what it means that the city sought to honor him in the post-Civil War decades?"

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