Baltimore Still Debating What to Do With Confederate Statues
Testimony before commission recounts how monuments coincided with city’s efforts to segregate
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
The controversy over these remnants of the city’s Confederate past continued today during the meeting of a panel who will decide their fate. But today it was revealed these were not just monuments of the Civil War, but symbols of much later efforts to segregate the city.
LARRY GIBSON: It’s just like the Mississippi one. All of them are the same. The only justification that is given for this [inaud.] is the, is protecting the institution of slavery.
GRAHAM: It was the second meeting of the commission established by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to gather testimony and historical perspective on four statues that depict the Confederate cause around the city. University of Baltimore law professor Larry Gibson says the meeting was part of a process of understanding the historical context before making a decision on what to do with them in a city that is predominantly African-American.
GIBSON: There are people who say, quite inaccurately, that the reason these Southern states seceded was state’s rights. In fact, they were anti-state, the Southern states were. They were complaining that the Northern states were not enforcing the national fugitive slave act. So it just seems important that we get history correct.
GRAHAM: But noted sociologist James Loewen, who testified during the hearing, says the statues are not just symbols of the Confederacy but were erected much later, during a period of rising racism in the country.
JAMES LOEWEN: The monuments are the creation of a period of American history that has a name, but most Americans don’t know that name. And that’s the nadir of race relations. And that’s this sad period from 1890 all the way to 1940 where the United States, white folks anyway, went more racist in our thinking than in any other period. That’s when they’re from. We need to understand that about them. And they then also tell us complete lies about the Civil War.
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: And what lies would that be?
LOEWEN: Well, for example, one of the monuments says that Lee and Jackson were gentlemanly in their conduct of the war. Now, that’s particularly bizarre to say in Maryland, because as Lee’s troops went through Maryland on their way to Gettysburg, and as they were in Pennsylvania too, they enslaved every single black person they came into contact with. Even if that person had never been a slave. Even if that person was a free black in Maryland, or person that had never lived anywhere but Pennsylvania. Blam. They are imprisoned, they are taken back to Virginia in slavery. That’s literally a war crime.
GRAHAM: In fact, the proliferation of these symbols of oppression coincide with Baltimore’s groundbreaking segregation laws, which sought to legally ban black residents from living in white neighborhoods, and were erected as symbols of white supremacy, including this statue of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, which was installed in 1940, almost a century after the Civil War ended.
Despite the questionable history of the monuments, Stevenson University professor of philosophy Alan Hook says removing them could be short-sighted.
ALAN HOOK: There’s always the danger of the slippery slope. You could go to the Vietnam memorial and tear that down, because that was clearly racist. We dropped Agent Orange on Vietnamese. We introduced the war in Cambodia, which led to a genocide of two million Cambodians. We could go to any–Mount Rushmore, and say, well, this is supporting a racist treatment of the American natives. So the slippery slope is there, and anyone who sees this, I’ve never seen any–I’ve been here 15, 20, 30 years. I’ve never seen anyone seem offended by this. They may ignore it, but you know–.
And I think, I’ve seen many African-Americans walk by, strolling–nobody seems offended by it. So the people who are claiming it’s offensive, I suspect, aren’t the ones who have suffered from our, you know, slave and racist past.
GRAHAM: A view not shared by protesters who gathered at the statue later to show their disgust and vent anger that there needs to be debate at all over these indisputable symbols of racism that linger in a city still acutely suffering from the injustices of the past they represent.
JAMES DUREL: Some people prefer to kind of–if you take it out of view, then it doesn’t exist in the popular mind anymore. And therefore, some people are even unaware that it ever happened. Other people will say, no, it needs to say so that we are aware of something that happened at a certain time in a certain place. And we just need to understand what it meant then and what it means now.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, Megan Sherman, and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.