A years-old fight to rid Baltimore of its Confederate statues ended early Wednesday morning, with all four of the monuments being carted off on flatbed trucks.
Last night between midnight and 5:30 a.m., crews sent out by Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration tore down the city’s four monuments to Confederate generals, soldiers and families, and the Supreme Court justice who denied black people a legal escape from the chains of slavery. This morning, empty marble bases were all that remained of the monuments in Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon Place, the Wyman Park Dell and on University Parkway.
At the knoll in Wyman Park near the Baltimore Museum of Art, the base of the Lee-Jackson Monument sat decorated in graffiti, with a statue of artist Pablo Machioli’s “Madre Luz” [“Mother Light”] resting nearby. The Baltimore Department of Public Works sent out an employee to begin removing the graffiti on the marble base at around 10 a.m. The gaze of Machioli’s statue of a pregnant black woman raising her fist, child on her back, loomed as he painted over “Black Lives Matter” and other phrases.
Up the road, a few sparse spectators gazed at the pedestal on University Parkway that held up the Confederate Women’s Monument only one day earlier. On Wednesday morning, the base stood alone with its inscription facing the Johns Hopkins University campus.
It was clear the statues’ days were numbered since Monday evening, when the City Council voted unanimously to remove all four of them. But many had questioned how long that might take. Mayor Catherine Pugh told reporters in late May that statue removals are expensive – roughly $200,000 per statue, she was told by News Orleans’ mayor, who undertook a similar task this year.
On Monday, Pugh said she had put out a request for proposals from contractors to see how soon the monuments could be torn down, and how it could be done. Pugh also said she was forming a task force that would include private sector folks who could help raise money for the removals.
Just last year, a commission appointed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recommended removing two of the statues, and “recontextualizing” the others with signage. However, all four remained when Rawlings-Blake left office, albeit with signage providing historical information about each piece.
The overnight extractions were expedient, considering the statues had only returned into the public bullseye three days earlier after white supremacists convened in Charlottesville, sparking an afternoon of violent protest that left one woman and two state troopers dead, as well as roughly three dozen others injured. The neo-Nazis and Confederate sympathizers gathered in the Virginia college town to protest the proposed removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Anti-Confederate backlash around the country was swift. Protesters in Durham toppled their city’s monument on their own, nevermind waiting for officials to arrange for its ejection. The City of Gainesville, Fla., removed a statue known as “Old Joe” from its downtown area.
In Baltimore, protesters rallied around the now-removed Lee-Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell on Sunday, and later tagged it with anti-hate and pro-equality messages. In Bolton Hill, someone tossed red paint all over the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, a piece that had stood there since 1903.
Roger Taney, the Supreme Court chief justice who issued the Dred Scott decision denying freed slaves citizenship in 1857, became a target as well. Baltimore has now removed its bust of Taney in Mount Vernon Place, crafted by local sculptor William Henry Rinehart and donated to the city in 1887. Some leaders have said it should be melted down and molded into a statue of a civil rights icon such as Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman.
In Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan yesterday called for the removal of a statue of Taney that sits on the State House lawn, reversing course from his opinion two years earlier that the piece should stay.
It remains unclear where Baltimore’s monuments will be stored. Councilman Brandon Scott’s resolution approved Monday night called for all statues to be “deconstructed” (changed from “destroyed” right before the council voted).
Some Marylanders have argued the statues didn’t need to be taken down, and could rather be recontextualized with signage – something the city had notably already done for all four of them. Others have said if they were going to be removed, the statues should be relocated to a museum or Confederate memorial for purposes of historical context.
Speaking with The Baltimore Sun, Mayor Catherine Pugh said early this morning, “It’s done. They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”
This story has been updated.