James W. Loewen argues confederate monument commission which recommended to remove two statues did not go far enough, and even overlooked confederate memorials that should also be removed
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. In 1941, this statue was built to honor Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier. Although it represents another symbol of neo-Confederate sympathies, it wasn’t even discussed by the committee tasked with deciding the fate of these monuments. We spoke with historian James Loewen about this oversight. We first encountered Loewen during the hearings of a commission appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as it debated what to do with four Confederate statues concentrated in the city’s majority white neighborhoods last Fall. The commission decided to remove two: a monument to Roger B. Taney, the architect of the Dred Scott decision, in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, and a statue depicting the battlefield meeting between Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee in Wyman Park. But others remain, and some are simply overlooked. Which is why we sat down with Loewen, to get more details on the historic context of the memorials that dot a majority black city, and the neo-Confederate movement in the early 20th century that used Confederate symbols to promote both legal segregation and codified racism against the state’s African-American population. JAMES LOEWEN: Everyone has ancestors, and Maryland did have a bunch of Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War who even joined the Confederate army, and they had to go to Virginia to do so. People who were descendants from those folks, they don’t want to think badly of their own ancestors. None of us do. So the idea that their ancestors, in fact, were seceding on behalf of slavery, which is true, is hard for them to agree with, hard to–and so they do all kinds of things to convert it to anything but slavery. We might call it ABS. The Confederacy was about states’ rights. No, the Confederacy was about tariffs and taxes. No. the Confederacy, in fact, was, literally, treason on behalf of slavery. We need to face that. Between 1890 and about 1940–this was a very racist period in American history. It’s called the nadir of race relations. During that period, most white folks didn’t care about race relations anyway, even Northern white folks. Quasi-slavery had been reimposed in the South. Black folks were being removed from the voting rolls, they were being removed from being jurors. Being put back into second-class citizenship. It’s a terrible time to be black. Well, even white folks who didn’t have any Southern connections, like most Maryland people, didn’t put up a fuss. And when all these Confederate monuments go up, right in that period. one of the key things that happened during this nadir of race relations is the attempt at complete segregation of American cities. And you’re right, Baltimore was a leader, and then Louisville, and a lot of these cities that were kind of on the borderline. St. Louis. They passed these laws which stated if you’re black you can’t move into a majority white block. If you’re white–just to be fair–you can’t move into a majority black block. Well, pretty soon, of course, almost every property changes hands. People move, people die. Houses get sold. This would have the immediate impact of converting the city into an apartheid city. You’d have black blocks and you’d have white blocks, period. This got thrown out by the United States Supreme Court, it turns out. But it was almost enforced anyway, because what it was replaced with was by these little agreements that went into your deed that said no, this property shall never be lived in, rented by, inhabited by, any member of the black, or–you know, they would name the races. Sometimes they’d say Hindu, or name all kinds of races that couldn’t live there. So that replaced it after the Supreme Court made the law illegal. People don’t realize that [our] houses has not been segregated from the beginning. In 1890 we had considerable mixture, even on social class lines, too, partly because rich folks wanted to have poor folks living nearby so they’d come in and cook their food and get the, get the coal stove going, you know, and heat up the house, and do the work. So we had rich folks and poor folks living together, we had black folks and white folks–in every city. And then by 1940 it, it becomes like this. And we also had the invention of sundown towns at this time. And Maryland is full of sundown towns. These are towns where the entire town is off limits to black folks after dark. There’s [inaud.] county, the furthest west county in Maryland, Garrett County, had a sign at the edge of the county: “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you in Garrett County.” Okay? And this happened across the North. Most Confederate statues in Baltimore, and even across the South, Baltimore being not part of the South, for the record, but most Confederate statues go up between 1890 and 1940. Now, the Lee Jackson statue in Baltimore goes up in 1948, but it gets planned around 1935, and they even start on it in about 1940 or 41, but then they have a problem getting the materials during World War II. So it doesn’t get finished until 1948. But it’s really a product of this same period, 1890 to 1940. And this is the period where we go so racist as a country, and so the sympathies of the whole country, of the white country, were with the South. This was when Gone with the Wind comes out, and is by far the most popular book published in the entire century, okay. And then it becomes by far the most popular movie. People say, well, Star Wars sold more money and tickets. Well, sure it did. That’s because a ticket to see Star Wars even when it came out was like, $8, where it was $0.25 to see Gone With the Wind. Gone with the Wind is much more popular than any other movie, and it’s much more popular than any other book in the entire 20th century. Well, these are completely pro-Confederate, pro-slavery, if you will, white supremacy books, movies, statues, and so on. In 1890, three things happened that, kind of, broke the anti-racist idealism to the extent there still was some. First, well, they all happened at the same time, near the end of the year. One was what used to be called the Battle at Wounded Knee. Now it’s accurately called the Massacre at Wounded Knee, in which Sioux or Lakota Indians, who had already surrendered, were mowed down by machine gun fire. And the Native Americans across the country go into their nadir of race relations, nadir means low point, for sure. No more independence of any kind, really. The second thing that happened was the state of Mississippi passed its new constitution, state constitution. This constitution removed blacks from citizenship, as I’ve already mentioned. Nothing wrong with the 1868 constitution, except it let blacks vote. So let’s get rid of that. And so they did it, they didn’t quite do it by saying blacks can’t vote, but that’s what it amounted to. This is in direct contradiction to the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, but the U.S. did nothing. Seeing this, every other Southern state followed suit, even states as far away as Oklahoma, by 1907. And the third thing that happened happened just 35 miles south of here, and I’m talking about in the Congress, the Senate failed to pass more or less by one vote the Voting Rights Act of 1890. Not a bad act. It wasn’t as good as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it was pretty good. They then tried to tar the Republicans as they always did, you people ain’t nothing but a bunch of [inaud.] lovers, they would say. And the Republicans in the past had said, you’re damn right. Somebody’s got to stand up for these people, it’s an outrage what you’re doing every Fall election in the South. But in 1891 they made a new reply, and their new reply was, no we aren’t. And they moved on to new issues. So African-Americans were without political allies. So for those three reasons, we date the nadir as starting exactly in 1890. There were some underlying causes. One was the continuing Indian wars. Here we are saying people should have rights without regard to race, except for Native Americans. If we discover gold in [Colorado] we’ll take it. If we discover gold in the, in the Dakotas, we’ll take it. So that undercut the anti-racism. But mostly it was just so far from the Civil War, you know, 35 years, 30-35 years had passed. And so a new generation was involved that had not made sacrifices on behalf of ending slavery. Didn’t really care about racial issues anymore. The states’ rights argument is completely fallacious. I published a book with another guy called the Confederate and neo-Confederate reader. And this makes these sources available to everybody. When each state left the Union, they said why. And they all said, we are leaving the union on behalf of slavery. And what they say about states’ rights is against it, amazingly enough. They’re not even in favor of states’ rights. And they name the states, and they name the rights that really upset them. For example, New York upsets them, because New York no longer allows temporary slavery. It used to work like this. Let’s say you’re a rich couple from Charleston, South Carolina, and you want to see some Broadway plays in August. You don’t want to spend August in South Carolina, it’s too hot. You used to bring your cook along, because you don’t want to cook your own food. Now New York is saying, uh-uh. We’re trying to run a free state here. If you bring your enslaved cook into New York, she goes free. This is outrageous to South Carolina, and they say so. And it’s one of the reasons they give for seceding. They’re even upset by New Hampshire, for instance, because New Hampshire let blacks vote. Now, who votes in the United States was a state’s right until the 15th Amendment gets passed during Reconstruction, two whole eras after when we’re talking about, after the Civil War, of course. So it’s none of South Carolina’s business who votes in New Hampshire. But they make it their right. They say, this is an outrage, because after all, the Dred Scott decision, 1857, says black folks should have no rights that white folks need to respect, and here you people in New Hampshire and the rest of New England are letting blacks vote. So they’re upset about that. So anybody who argues that it was for states’ rights is either completely misinformed or is directly lying and trying to convince you of something that’s not true. What the commission decided to do–first of all, we need to discuss the fact that there are seven Confederate statues in Baltimore, not counting the ones in the cemetery. There’s two more, three, maybe, that need to be discussed. But of the four that were up for grabs, the commission decided to recommend the removal of two of them. And one of them to go to the battlefield in Virginia that it signifies, that it’s about. That makes a lot of sense to me. Why not? It makes–it illustrates something that did happen in Virginia. All it illustrates that happened in Maryland, in Baltimore, was some really rich guy liked the idea and built the statue. That’s not exactly history. The other statue that they recommended removal of was Roger Taney, famous Supreme Court Justice. Now, Taney gets his statue up precisely because he decided Dred Scott as he did. This is an outrage. We should not celebrate Dred Scott. Of course, we should remember it. I’m recommending that the, where that statue is right now, and let’s say where it was, if Baltimore does remove it, which is right in the main square, Mount Vernon square, within sight of George Washington, where that statue is needs to be replaced with a historical marker that says, there used to be a statue of Roger Brooks Taney here, who made this terrible decision. Here’s what was terrible about it. That’s why the statue was put here. In 2017 or ’16, or wherever they get around to doing it, it was removed for the following reason. Now, that kind of monument would actually teach you something. The monument that is here now is just him, looking good, and it says he’s a great man and we should honor him. For just the wrong reason. We should honor him because he’s solidified white supremacy forever. No, we should not honor him for that. We should remember him. The other two statues I think should be removed, too. I suggested they should be removed to a little, some other park. Some place to be determined. Where they could kind of talk to each other, and have some historical signage that says why they got moved. That they are an expression of the intense racism of the nadir period, and they have no business being in prime locations in downtown Baltimore. However, what they decided to recommend is leave them where they are, but do that signage. And, you know, that’s [all right] too. So I’m not at all opposed to what they came out with. I hope the city does it. So far, of course, the city has not made the decision. GRAHAM: When students of color, minority students, African-American students are confronted with these historical sites, these monuments, this history, that it affects how they feel, how they perceive their past, how they perceive their ancestors, and how they feel in the present, as well as what they think they can accomplish in the future. As a teacher, as a professor, have you seen this impact young people? LOEWEN: Sure. Even more than that, I’ve got statistics on it. Black folks do worse than white folks in school, on average. We know that. I’m not being racist by saying it. The difference is smallest in math. It’s bigger in English. It’s by far the biggest in history. Or social studies. Now, why is that? Is that because history is harder than, say, trigonometry? Harder than Faulkner? I don’t think so. I think it’s because it’s kind of almost a way of dealing with the fact that I’m just turned off by history as it’s taught. You know, the Confederacy seems to be taught as the moral equal to the union. Maybe even the moral superior. It was standing for states’ rights instead of the huge federal government. And I kind of thought the Confederacy was against me, and so I was on the wrong side, I, a black person. This is an outrage. Not only that, one of the key reasons that the South gave for seceding was fugitive slaves from Maryland crossing into Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania could do all they could to send them back. Pennsylvania enacted some things and states’ rights to try interfere with the national process of the fugitive slave act of 1850 forcing them back. So actually, black folks had something to do with the coming of the civil war, and black folks also had something to do with the winning of the civil war. Because it was 200,000 of them fought in the army and navy, and maybe the difference. I mean, it was up for grabs until 1864. So the true history of the Civil War ought to turn African-Americans on, but the true history of the Civil War, as conveyed by these stupid monuments, turns them off.