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Commission Rules on Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments

Monuments to Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee stand outside the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Photo/Beau Considine/Creative Commons via Flickr)

One of the members of the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments spoke to The AFRO about the group’s decision to remove two such fixtures.

The commission on Jan. 14 voted in favor of removing two of the monuments: the Rodger B. Taney Monument in Mount Vernon and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in Wyman Park. The group recommended that two other monuments—the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Confederate Women’s Monument—remain in place with the addition of some educational signage.

Commission member Larry Gibson said that the group wanted the monument honoring Rodger B. Taney, the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, gone due primarily to his decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

“Taney is most famous for his decision in the Dred Scott case, which advanced slavery in America and is tied to the Confederate cause,” the commission wrote on its website.

“What he said was that Black people aren’t really fully human beings,” Gibson said. “He deserves a place in infamy.”

Gibson said that the commission also looked at “proportionality” when evaluating what monuments should stay or go.

“There are three confederate monuments. There certainly shouldn’t be three,” he said. In Baltimore, Gibson said, there is just one monument to the Vietnam War, one remembering the Korean War and one for World War I. “It’s just out of proportion to have three for the Confederacy.”

They said they decided to recommend that the city remove the monument featuring Lee and Jackson because the two men had no ties to Maryland.

“Neither Jackson or Lee were Marylanders and didn’t do anything admirable to Maryland,” he said. He said that it might be better to put that monument in the spot where the actual meeting took place. “We are recommending to the city that the city give it to the U.S. Parks Service,” he said.

Gibson said the remaining statues could be of value to the city less as an honor to the Southern cause in the Civil War, but as teaching tools. He said that many of the statues seen in Baltimore and throughout the southern states were products of the “Lost Cause” movement, which took place in the early part of the 20th century—well after the Civil War. During this time, southern sympathizers looked to recast the Civil War as a conflict not about slavery or racism but one fought for Southern culture and values.

“They painted a false image of slavery, presenting it as a much more sanguine and less horrendous activity than what it was,” Gibson said.

Howard Libit, a spokesperson for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said commission members must submit a formal report to the mayor, who will have the final say. He said that the mayor’s office hopes to have the final report by the spring.

Members of the seven-member panel began meeting in September to decide the fate of the monuments. Over the last few months, they have heard from historians, educators and members of the public.