Baltimore City workers on Monday night removed a statue of Captain John O’Donnell, who enslaved Black people on his Canton plantation in the 18th century, from its pedestal in Canton Square.
The Canton Community Association and the Canton Anti-Racism Alliance in 2020 penned a petition calling for the statue’s removal, which has garnered more than 900 signatures. Members later reiterated their demand in a letter directly to then-Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
But when Young’s term came to an end in December 2020, the statue was still standing.
Mayor Brandon Scott on Monday announced that the statue had been removed.
“Tonight, the hostile vestige to the notorious enslaver Captain John O’Donnell no longer stands in Canton Square. This is a historical moment, however, countless publicly named monuments, statues, streets, and schools across Baltimore remain that must be reassessed.”
Scott said he and City Administrator Christopher Shorter will organize a team to evaluate the fates of other monuments in Baltimore City.
“I am committed to dismantling structural oppression in Baltimore by working with the City Administrator to commission a team to establish procedures for reviewing the impact of these cruel monuments while continuing to promote equitable policies to right yesterday’s wrongs,” Scott said. “Thanks to the Canton Anti-Racism Alliance for their persistence on this effort and continuous work on building an inclusive Baltimore.”
Tonight, the hostile vestige to the notorious enslaver Captain John O’Donnell no longer stands in Canton Square. This is a historical moment and I am committed to dismantling structural oppression in Baltimore.
— Brandon M. Scott (@MayorBMScott) April 6, 2021
Mark Edelson, president of the Canton Community Association, chair of the Canton Anti-Racism Alliance, and a candidate for Maryland District 46 delegate, applauded Scott and his administration for listening to community members who urged the city to take down the statue.
“The Canton Anti-Racism Alliance has built a diverse coalition of community members, business owners, African-American historians, and city residents to address the legacy of slavery in Canton and coalesce around building a better and shared future together,” Edelson said in a statement on social media.
“Tonight represents a new chapter of welcoming and inclusivity in Canton,” he added.
I applaud Mayor Scott and his Administration for listening to our community and taking down the O’Donnell statue this evening. The Canton Anti-Racism Alliance has built a diverse coalition of community members, business owners, African-American historians, and city
— Mark Edelson (@ElectEdelson) April 6, 2021
and tonight, thanks to the Scott Administration, it came down. Tonight represents a new chapter of welcoming and inclusivity in Canton. @baltimoresun @WMAR2News @FOXBaltimore @wjz @BaltimoreBrew @Baltimoremag
— Mark Edelson (@ElectEdelson) April 6, 2021
Councilman Zeke Cohen (District 1), who was among the Baltimore residents who called for the statue’s removal, was glad to see it go.
In a tweet, Cohen shared a quote from community member Torbin Green in an article by the Baltimore Sun, talking about the experience of looking up at the statue while gardening and feeling like he was on O’Donnell’s plantation.
Community organizing works. Race-based trauma is real. Bye O’Donnell.
“While I would be working in the garden, I would look up and feel like I was on his plantation. I don’t need a slave owner sanding on a pedestal while I tend the garden.”
— Zeke Cohen (@Zeke_Cohen) April 6, 2021
Baltimore resident Brian Seel heralded the community-led effort as a sign of progressive change in Canton.
It’s hard to understate how big this is. In the last gubernatorial election, Canton helped elect Hogan. Since then, we have gotten an amazing progressive mayor @MayorBMScott, and @ElectEdelson has helped organize a progressive Canton.
— Brian Seel (@cylussec) April 6, 2021
In the comment section below the Canton Community Association’s Facebook video of the removal, community members argued over whether it was right to take down the statue.
“Another piece of history gone. We need to know about it not erase it,” Dawn DeHart said.
Bob Quick said the statue was the latest effect of “cancel culture.”
“And like a thief in the night ,,,The Cancel culture continues,” he said.
But Chris Broughton said people can read about history without putting such figures upon literal and figurative pedestals.
“Horrid history like this belongs in a book, not on a pedestal,” he said.
Emily Culley said community members can still learn about O’Donnell and other historic figures whose monuments have been taken down. But she said statues — and even school textbooks — are not necessarily accurate teachers of history.
“It’s a shame that people actually think history is learned from statues that were erected in response to the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. History isn’t learned from statues. History isn’t even learned from text books in classrooms. That history is an [partial] history that is insulting to the struggle many people went through (and continue to go through) to be seen and treated as equals in this country.”
O’Donnell’s statue, which was dedicated in 1980, is the latest monument to be removed from a pedestal in Baltimore City.
Community members in July 2020 toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus near Little Italy and dragged it into the Inner Harbor. After they landed in the Americas in the 15th century, the Italian explorer and his crew killed and enslaved thousands of native people.
Little Italy community members later retrieved pieces of the Columbus statue from the water and said they planned to reassemble it.
In August 2017, the city removed four Confederate monuments in the middle of the night.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey (District 3) in June 2020 introduced a bill to rename the Columbus obelisk in Herring Run Park as a monument to victims of police violence.
Unlike other monuments, which bear the likeness of the person they pay tribute to, the obelisk itself is not a human figure, providing the perfect opportunity to give it new meaning, Dorsey said at the time.
The Baltimore City Council passed the bill, but Young vetoed it and the council was not able to cobble together enough votes to override the veto.
The mayor’s office has not responded to Baltimore Fishbowl’s requests for comment.