Former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake left behind a 500 pound gorilla as she walked out the door of her office at City Hall last December for current Mayor Catherine Pugh to clean up behind. Actually, SRB left four gorillas; four Confederate monuments, sprinkled mostly along the Charles Street corridor, icons of White supremacy in the minds of many. And they all weigh vastly more than 500 pounds.

The problem of what to do about Baltimore’s four Confederate statues: the Robert E. Lee- Stonewall Jackson Monument in Wyman Park Dell, the Roger B. Taney Monument in Mt. Vernon Place (the Taney monument technically is not in memoriam to the Confederacy, but it honors the Supreme Court justice who wrote the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857), the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Mt. Royal Avenue near Mosher Street and the Confederate Women of Maryland Monument at Bishop Square Park, is now Pugh’s problem.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Anthony McCarthy, Mayor Pugh’s spokesperson recently told AFRO contributor Kenneth Burns that the mayor is studying a report compiled by a seven member panel during SRB’s administration. The panel recommended the removal of two of the statues; Lee-Jackson and Taney and historical context crafted for all four of the monuments.

“She is looking for several options in regard to the recommendations for the statues,” McCarthy told Burns.

To be clear, if Mayor Pugh woke up one morning and said, hypothetically speaking of course, “You know, it’s time to blow up all four of those damn Confederate monuments,” the mayor couldn’t get it done without navigating significant fiscal, legal and procedural hurdles. The influence of the Maryland Historical Trust, in particular, on a possible removal of any or all of the statues seems rather outsized.

That there are so many prohibitions woven into the fabric of city governance, blocking the removal of monuments to the Confederacy (although Maryland officially sided with the Union during the Civil War!) in a predominantly Black city, with a Black mayor, Black City Council president, and a majority Black City Council is really the definition of the structural racism that allowed these four statues to be erected in Baltimore in the first place.

In November of 2015, I wrote about the removal (in less than 24 hours) of a statue crafted by sculptor Pablo Machioli, in protest of the Confederate monuments, placed near the Lee-Jackson monument in Wyman Park Dell. The protest statue of a Black woman, a baby on her back, and golden fist raised to the sky was taken to a storage facility in Druid Hill Park near the Baltimore Zoo. Less than 24 hours after that, she was hauled back to the Copycat Building, an artist enclave, where Machioli lived. Again, less than 24 hours later vandals defaced the statue, scrawling the words, “nigger” and “White power,” on her Black body. I also gave the following historical context in that November 2015 column, for the Lee-Jackson monument:

“When the Lee-Jackson monument was erected in May of 1948, more than 3,000 people attended the ceremony including the Governor of Maryland, William Preston Lane, Jr., and Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro. Baltimore was (and still is) one of the most segregated cities in America and in 1948 the many of the  city’s Black leaders were part of the vanguard of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, and had been for decades.”

The installation of this monument to two of the greatest icons of the Confederacy was perhaps a not so subtle reminder back then to “uppity Negroes,” to remember their place.

The point is those four statues were never really meant to be monuments to the Confederacy, they were and still are monuments to White supremacy.

The commission to study what should be done about the monuments during the SRB administration was formed in September 2015, shortly after the Charleston

Massacre. Even South Carolina, under the leadership of then South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley, mustered the will to finally take the Confederate flag from in front of the South Carolina Statehouse after the diabolical acts of Dylan Roof.

Last month, New Orleans, deep in the heart of Dixie, rid itself of all of its Confederate monuments, including one of Robert E. Lee.

Yet, in 2017 Baltimore’s monuments to the Confederacy remain. White supremacy put them here and White supremacy keeps them in place. At least for now.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor