By Reginald Allen II
Special to the AFRO
Four years ago in 2017, Catherine Pugh, former mayor of Baltimore, ordered four confederate statues in Baltimore to be removed. Séamus Miller, a director at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC), with the assistance of CSC actors, took photos on top of former confederate statue pedestals in Baltimore. Miller and the CSC started the Monument project to celebrate Black artists instead of allowing the “lost cause” narrative to linger.
Miller noted that growing up in the Bolton Hill neighborhood and later moving to Guilford, he did not notice the significance of the statues. “I did not even know they were confederate states, no one had really taught me about them or what they represented,” said Miller, “Much less did I know some of them were built as late as 1948.”
The most notable statue removed was the Stonewall Jackson-Robert E. Lee monument located in Wyman Park Dell; the site is now called Harriet Tubman Grove. The other statues removed were the confederate soldiers and sailors monument (Mount Royal Ave.), confederate women’s monument (W. University Pkwy), and the Roger B. Taney monument in Mount Vernon. The statues were swiftly taken down at night to not stir up commotion like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The last status of the statues was that they were being held in a city lot waiting for further direction by the city. Miller said that one day he was driving past one of the pedestals and thought about the emptiness and the out-of-work actors because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s a good statement to be making, but it leaves this empty space that I suddenly saw as an opportunity to celebrate something else. These actors were out of work and we still have the costumes from Macbeth and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It gave me the idea to celebrate Black artists and put them in a new context. We can make these portraits in a way that are safe during covid and hopefully inspire others to think about what we could be celebrating. Or how we could be using the pedestals for something positive,” said Miller.
He was surprised none of the actors hesitated to be a contradictory image upon the pedestal. “Black Shakespearian actors in renaissance clothing on top of former confederate monuments invites the viewer to make some sense of the contradiction,” said Miller.
A secondary effort of the project and the company is an incentive for donations over $60 or more towards their education program. The CSC will send an 11-by-17 inch Monument Project poster of choice. Lesley Malin, managing director of the CSC stated so far they have raised $500 and have enlarged the photos for display outside their theatre. Malin said the education program is the company’s most robust and far-reaching and has served over 16,000 children before COVID annually.
You can find The Monument Project at The Monument Project