A small throng banded together in North Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell on Sunday evening, many to impart a forceful, resolute message: “If they won’t tear it down, we’ll replace it!”
Local residents met at the base of the Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee Monument in the tree-shaded knoll to speak out against the tide of white supremacy that has resurfaced in America in 2017. Protesters held anti-fascist banners and chanted in unison:
“Tear it down!”
“Make Nazis fear again!”
“When human rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
One day earlier, havoc unfolded in Charlottesville, Va., roughly 150 miles southeast of Baltimore, where hundreds of torch-wielding white supremacists gathered to protest the proposed removal of a similar statue paying homage to Lee. Tensions boiled over in the streets as counter-protesters turned out to push back against their message.
By the end of the day, 32-year-old Heather Heyer had been killed and 19 others were hurt after a 20-year-old white supremacist allegedly mowed them down by driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd. Two state troopers monitoring the unrest also died after their helicopter crashed. Dozens of others were injured in street fights between racists and counter-protesters in the historic Virginia town.
Sunday’s protest in North Baltimore brought hundreds out to condemn hate over a period of several hours. The group started off at the dell, marched up through Charles Village and then returned to the grassy area near the Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore police monitored the peaceful gathering from the road. Foxtrot, the city police department’s chopper, hovered overhead.
Speakers took the mic on by one. Kwame Alston, president of the Black Student Union at Johns Hopkins University, held back tears as he explained how he suspects some within his own campus community secretly harbor racist beliefs. He called upon his peers to stand firm heading into the 2017-18 school year. “No one’s gonna break us down,” he said.
Molly Amster, director of Baltimore’s chapter of Jews United for Justice, told the crowd it was “terrifying” as a Jew to see neo-Nazis parading through the streets in 2017. She noted, “I know that I’m not the one who has the most to fear” as a white Jewish person, compared to minorities staring down day-to-day racism. However, the message she relayed applied to all. “We need to dismantle white supremacy if we’re ever going to really make progress in this country.”
The speeches halted for a brief period when a group pulled up in a pickup truck. Out of the bed, they carted Pablo Machioli’s “Mother Light” statue, depicting a pregnant black woman with her first raised high in the air. Two years earlier, activists had placed the statue in that same spot, as chronicled by City Paper. Seeing it temporarily reinstated there, the crowd repeated its calls for the Civil War-commemorating statues to be torn down.
The city remains at a crossroads over what it will do about its controversial monuments. Baltimore has four in all. A commission from the Rawlings-Blake administration recommended removing the ones of Lee and Jackson, and of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who ruled in 1857 that African-Americans remained property even if set free from slavery. The two others – the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors and the Confederate Women’s monuments – should be “recontextualized” with signage, the commission said.
However, the monuments have remained, albeit with such signage in place. Mayor Catherine Pugh has said tearing them down would cost about $200,000 per statue. She suggested in late May, “maybe we can just auction them off” to willing buyers.
Pugh said in a statement Monday morning that she plans to proceed with the removal effort. She said she met with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who followed through with tearing down similar statues in his city this year.
Pugh said she has since “taken steps to appoint a working group to lead the process for removing the confederate monuments,” has asked the Maryland Historical Trust Easement Committee for permission to remove the Lee-Jackson statue and is looking into cemeteries where Confederate soldiers have been buried, among other spaces, that might take the monuments.
At the dell, protesters called on Councilman Eric Costello to do something about the monuments, since some of them sit in his district. (Costello responded in a tweet that he had asked the city solicitor’s office in August for legal guidance about removing, relocating or reinterpreting the statues.)
On the eve of the deadly unrest in Charlottesville, Councilman Brandon Scott announced he’d submit a final draft of a resolution “calling for the immediate destruction of all Confederate monuments in Baltimore.
“Cities must act decisively and immediately by removing these monuments” following the deadly Saturday episodes in Charlottesville, the text of his proposal reads.
On Sunday evening, a 10-foot black woman’s likeness eclipsed the view of Lee and Jackson mounted atop their horses. Addressing the crowd, Machioli denied that the sculpture he crafted in 2015 with help from activists was his to take credit for. It “goes to everybody, everything,” he said. “It’s from all of you.”
Organizer Owen Silverman Andrews, who worked closely with Machioli to create the artwork two years ago, told the crowd his original sketch for the project depicted abolitionist Harriet Tubman wielding a brick aimed at the Confederate war heroes.
“Pablo said, ‘we can’t beat violence with violence, and we need to beat violence with love,’” Andrews said. “So that’s what this is about.”
This story has been updated with comment from Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office.