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Understanding Monuments and an Empty Plinth: Talking about public art and history at Mount Vernon Place

Join us this Sunday afternoon for an hour-long walk and discussion about the history of the now absent Taney Monument and other monuments around Mount Vernon Place. Why are these statues here? This short tour is an opportunity for residents to learn about the history of the statues, ask questions about the people they depict, and reflect on how they see the monuments today.

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Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments: what comes next?

Last night at Mayor Pugh’s direction, Baltimore’s three public Confederate monuments and the monument of Justice Roger B. Taney were taken down and placed in storage. The city’s action comes after a series of meetings, public discussions, and protests that began in June 2015 when people in Baltimore and across the country called for the removal of Confederate monuments and former Mayor Rawlings-Blake created a special commission to study Baltimore’s four statues. More recently, this past Sunday, over a thousand people gathered at the Lee-Jackson Monument for a rally to show solidarity with Charlottesville and to call on the city to take down the monuments. And on Monday, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution by Councilman Brandon Scott to remove all four of the statues. The Mayor’s decision to remove the monuments last night also came after Baltimore BLOC announced a plan to take down the Lee-Jackson Statue through direct action, following the example set by protesters in Durham, North Carolina.

In 2015, Baltimore Heritage supported the public review of these monuments by presenting testimony and publishing a report on the history of Confederate memory. In our research, we reported how “Lost Cause” monuments to the Confederacy were built as a part of a national movement to support white supremacy beginning after the Civil War. The report also chronicled how the monuments sparked opposition and controversy at the time they were erected. For example, in 1888, a Confederate veteran opposing the erection of a Confederate monument on Eutaw Place wrote: “I am unwilling to see erected in the public streets of this city a monument to a dead idea.” In 1948, the Afro-American newspaper criticized the mayor and governor for participating in the dedication of the Lee-Jackson Monument calling the men it depicted rebels “who walked roughshod over humble people in an attempt to build a State on the foundation of slave labor.”

Base of the Taney Monument at Mount Vernon Place after the statue’s removal. Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2017 August 16.

Today, the four monuments are gone from their pedestals. We join many other Baltimoreans in looking forward to and participating in what comes next. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has called on communities to act in a transparent, deliberative, and inclusive way in dealing with their Confederate monuments. We agree. Just as the removal of the monuments came after years of public participation, we hope the city will invite an open discussion on what happens next at these sites.

Public Hearing: Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments

On June 30, 2015, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced the creation of a special commission to review all of Baltimore’s Confederate statues and historical assets. Under the request, Mayor Rawlings-Blake directed the special commission to launch a conversation about each of the different Confederate-era monuments and other historical assets and make recommendations for their future in Baltimore.

On September 4, 2015, the appointees to the Commission were announced. Mayor Rawlings-Blake selected four members from the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), and three members from the Baltimore City Public Arts Commission. There will also be a Mayoral staff representative on the Commission.

Over the next six months, the commission will conduct a thorough review of Confederate monuments on City-owned property including gathering research and soliciting public testimony. Based on the findings, the commission will issue a series of recommendations to the Mayor for the future of the monuments. The recommendations might include, but are not limited to, preservation, new signage, relocation, or removal.

Currently, there are four Confederate monuments on City property that are to be reviewed by the commission. They are: Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument located on Mount Royal Avenue near Mosher Street; Confederate Women’s of Maryland, located at Bishop Square Park; Roger B. Taney Monument, located on Mt. Vernon Place in North Park; and Lee & Jackson Monument, located in Wyman Park Dell.

The Commission wants to hear from Baltimore City residents about these monuments. Comments can be submitted in several ways: via mail, email, in a public hearing, or through the email form on the commission website. Learn more about how to contact the Commission.

This December hearing is intended to provide an opportunity for public comment and testimony. The exact amount of time for individuals who wish to testify has not yet been determined.

Join the conversation about Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments Learn more about the history of the monuments and how you can submit comments

Courtesy Baltimore Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.
Lee-Jackson Monument, 2015. Baltimore Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined our tour of Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments at Wyman Park Dell this past weekend. As I explained in my testimony before the Special Commission reviewing the city’s Confederate monuments on October 29, Baltimore Heritage supports the review process and is working educate the public about the history of the monuments. Our organization has not made any formal recommendation for what we think the commission should do about the monument. We think it is important for everyone with an interest in this issue to learn more and to add their voice to the ongoing discussion. To support this goal, we have put together a set of educational resources to help you prepare your comments or testimony.

What is the history of the monuments?

Confederate Monument, Mount Royal Terrace (c. 1906). Library of Congress
Confederate Monument, Mount Royal Terrace (c. 1906). Library of Congress

In September, Baltimore Heritage has published a detailed study on the history of the monuments with a particular focus on how race and politics shaped their meaning in the past and present. We also published our testimony from October 29 and our full tour notes from the December 5 walking tour. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know—we plan on continuing to revise and expand these materials in the months ahead. Additional profiles on the four monuments under review are available from the Special Commission.

Where are the monuments located?

We have also put together a map showing the four monuments selected for review and the broader collection of monuments, statues and historic sites related to the theme of Civil War memory and the Lost Cause.

What do the monuments look like?

Detail, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors MonumentThe staff of the Commission has shared their extensive photo documentation of all four monuments and we have uploaded these photographs to an album on Flickr so anyone can get a close look at the monuments from the general surroundings to the smallest details.

How do I send comments?

There are three ways to share your comments: send a letter by mail, send an email, or attend the public hearing on December 15. Please note that your comments become part of the public record and may be shared by the Commission as part of the process.

  1. To submit comments by email contact monuments.review@baltimorecity.gov or use the online contact form.
  2. To submit comments by mail, send a letter to the Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments c/o Eric Holcomb, 417 E. Fayette St. 8th floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.
  3. To testify at the public hearing on December 15, you should prepare your testimony in advance, sign-up before the meeting, and bring a printed copy of your testimony for the Commission. Find additional details about the public hearing on our calendar.

How do I prepare effective testimony?

For anyone interested in testifying at the meeting on December 15, we have six quick tips for making the most of your testimony:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Lead with your key message
  3. Make it personal
  4. Stick to the facts
  5. Keep it short
  6. Say thank you

Check out our expanded version of this guide including links to more related resources. The Special Commission has details about the process of signing up to testify and what to expect in their guide (PDF).

For questions about this issue, please feel free to contact me at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or contact our director Johns Hopkins at 410-332-9992.

Confederate Monuments in Wyman Park Dell and Charles Village: Tour and Discussion

Please join us for a walk around Wyman Park Dell and Charles Village to learn about ongoing review of Baltimore’s public Confederate monuments, the history behind these statues, and the complicated issue of public memory and public art. This tour is intended to create a safe place for learning and discussion about both Confederate and Union monuments and their meaning in the past and present.

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