Baltimore Removes Confederate Statues After Activists Gave City Ultimatium
Baltimore became the latest city to remove Confederate statues after neo-Nazis in Charlottesville killed one and injured dozens.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor here in Baltimore, and we have some breaking news for you. The City of Baltimore, faced by an ultimatum from activists of Bmore BLOC of tearing down … They said they were going to tear down the statue of Robert E. Lee, which is here at Wyman Park, tonight, Wednesday, if the city had not taken it down. In the middle of the night, from four or five in the morning, the City came in.
As you can see, they took down the statue of Robert E. Lee, which has been here since the 1920s. It was really an homage to white supremacy, to racism, the lost cause. The statue was built at a time when Baltimore had the nation’s first racial segregation zoning law, which still has a huge impact on the city today. The City Council had unanimously voted to take down the statues immediately on Monday.
And now I’m here with somebody to talk about this a little more. Introduce yourself and tell us why you’re here.
Ryan Flanigan: Hi, I’m Ryan Flanigan. I’m a lifelong Baltimorian and someone who’s always lived within close proximity to these statues, and I just couldn’t say clearly enough how pleased I am that we saw a grassroots movement really bring this issue to the fore and make it inescapable for our politicians and our leadership. And now, even though it’s just a symbol, I think we’ve seen in Charlottesville that symbols matter, and now these are done. We have other things that are pressing that we need to work on, but today is a good day.
Jaisal Noor: So, I’m going to just show everyone where the statue used to be, and it’s gone. It is gone, and you can see activists put up this statue, which was removed at least a couple times yesterday, of a black woman in its place. You can see that.
A. F. James MacArthur: But it is kind of funny to show that when they need to get things done quickly, they can.
Jaisal Noor: And it was a large part because the group Bmore BLOC had given the city an ultimatum and said if it wasn’t taken down by tonight, by Wednesday night, they were going to take it down.
A. F. James MacArthur: Yeah, and that was one of several voices that said if they don’t do it, we will. That came from several corners. That was one of the more prominent ones, but there was several different corners saying, “Hey, we’re going to take this down whether you want it down now or not.”
Jaisal Noor: And force the City’s hand, it seems.
A. F. James MacArthur: Force the City’s hand. These contractors got their act together quite quickly.
Jaisal Noor: And this is just one of at least-
A. F. James MacArthur: One of four. Yeah, one of four that were identified to be removed. I do believe this was the largest, most imposing one.
Jaisal Noor: And it’s been a flashpoint for years. It’s been protested over the years.
A. F. James MacArthur: Years. Not only protests. They come here on … Was it Lee’s birthday, I think? And they have the little ceremony.
Andrede Robinson: Okay, my name is Andrede Robinson.
Jaisal Noor: And you’re from Baltimore?
Andrede Robinson: I’m from Baltimore, yes.
Jaisal Noor: Okay, so this has been here for 70 or 80 years. It was taken down in the middle of the night just a couple days after the violence in Charlottesville. What are your thoughts about it? You seem to be out here … You said Friday.
Andrede Robinson: Well, I was here yesterday. I was here last night, and we had a great discussion last night about where this country is as far as race, and what happened in Virginia over the weekend. Somebody asked the question yesterday, “Why now?” And the answer was because it’s bringing stuff. It’s like a submarine under the surface, and now it comes to the surface. You have to deal with it. If it’s bubbling down under the surface, we don’t know what’s going on. But now it comes to the surface. Now children are seeing what our grandparents see, so the whole point now is now is the time to take this thing down so it doesn’t get to repeat history all over again.
Jaisal Noor: Yesterday on Tuesday, Donald Trump defended Confederate statues.
Andrede Robinson: Exactly.
Jaisal Noor: He defended the people that rallied in Charlottesville, and his campaign has empowered white nationalists and neo-Nazis nationwide. Is that what you’re talking about?
Andrede Robinson: I’m outraged about it. I’m outraged because I’m on CNN every day, and I’m getting the updates of the news. It really is discouraging and disheartening to know that the President is picking a side, and the wrong side. The President should be somebody who will bring the country together.
Owen Silverman Andrews: Sure, I think it’s exciting, and the culmination of intense, years-long grassroots organizing and pressure that was a flashpoint, like you said, when white supremacist violence occurred in Charleston and then again in Charlottesville, but also in response to ongoing white supremacist violence here in Baltimore City. And so Fredrick Douglass said, “Power yields nothing without demand.” And that’s exactly what happened here. It was, “Oh, this is too expensive. This will take too long,” and ultimately, when push comes to shove, the government will respond when we force the government to respond and not before.
Jaisal Noor: And so defenders, even liberal defenders I talk to say, “This is history. We can’t remove history. It needs to be preserved. We shouldn’t take them down.” How do you respond to those arguments?
Owen Silverman Andrews: Sure. The Lee/Jackson monument is not history. It’s a false narrative. It’s the Lost Cause mythology. It was put up in the 1940s, not to honor fallen Confederate veterans like some of the older monuments supposedly were alluding to, but it was put up as a triumphant symbol of rising white supremacy and resurgent white power. And so leaving the Lee/Jackson statue in place is the erasure of history, not the removal of it. If you look at the way Nazi Germany, for example, has dealt with their past, they do not leave statues of Hitler and Eichmann in place. They remove them and put up plaques and said, “Jewish families lived here,” and that’s the way to remember history. Not to leave up triumphant statues of genocidal maniacs.
Jaisal Noor: Yeah, and you didn’t hear those same people defending the statues of Saddam in Iraq.
Owen Silverman Andrews: Exactly. Exactly. It’s a false logic, and it’s a defense mechanism of people who can’t grapple with either their own privilege or internalized white supremacy, and so we can remember history without celebrating slavery and genocide and rape.
Jaisal Noor: And so is the work now done now that this is down?
Owen Silverman Andrews: Columbus is next. There are two Columbus statues in Baltimore, One in Druid Hill Park, and another in Little Italy. And if those don’t come down based on government action from the City, then they’ll come down based on grassroots action. So those are the next two, Columbus in Druid Hill and Columbus in Little Italy. Columbus started the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He brought syphilis to the hemisphere. He was a rapist who took indigenous women to Europe and had sex with them against their will, and so we’re planning a funeral for Columbus to lay him to rest, and to move onto the next chapter so we can celebrate people like Thurgood Marshall and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and hold up those leaders who struggled against that type of oppression instead of honoring those who initiated it.