Mayor Catherine Pugh indicated Friday that she’s just as keen as the mayor of New Orleans is on ridding her majority-black city of its Confederate statues. But, as she put it, “We’ve got to find that money.”
Pugh fielded a question at a press briefing that day about whether Baltimore still plans to remove its statues memorializing Confederate heroes and history. The city has four, including busts of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who led the rebels in the Civil War, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 that, regardless of whether they were still enslaved, African-Americans were property and could never become U.S. citizens.
“The city does want to remove these,” Pugh assured reporters. “We will take a closer look at how we go about following in the footsteps of New Orleans.”
One week earlier, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered a moving speech about why his city’s four Confederate monuments were coming down. He said that at their hearts, each memorial was an ode to white supremacy.
“The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery,” Landrieu said. “This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”
Baltimore has been asked to confront its own memorials to Southern war heroes for years. In 2016, a commission formed by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recommended that the city remove the statues of Taney, Lee and Jackson, while keeping the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors and the Confederate Women’s monuments and “recontextualizing” them with signs.
And after that? The statues remained. Mayor Rawlings-Blake didn’t have them taken down before she left office, though she did have the city’s Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation craft strongly worded signage for each.
Taney’s new sign, for example, says rather clearly, “This monument helped to promote white supremacy in Baltimore.” The one for the Lee Jackson Monument reads, “These larger-than-life representations of Lee and Jackson helped perpetuate the Lost Cause ideology, which advocated for white supremacy, portrayed slavery as benign and justified secession.”
Despite the city’s good intentions, many still feel that brutally honest messages providing context aren’t enough. However, Pugh said it costs “about $200,000 a statue to tear it down.”
A possible solution she fielded twice at the briefing: Have somebody who wants them pay to take them away. “Maybe we can just auction them off,” she said.
The commission’s report recommended donating the Lee Jackson Monument to the National Park Service, while discarding the one of Taney entirely.
In March, Frederick removed its own statue of Taney, an action recommended by the city’s historic preservation commission last fall. That same month, ancestors of Taney and Dred Scott met for a peace gathering outside the Maryland State House, commemorating the 160th anniversary of the infamous decision.
Of course, Frederick officials were dealing with a different kind of beast. The size of their statue — a bronze bust of Taney’s head — allowed for crews to move it to a literal cemetery down the road from its original location. Baltimore, meanwhile, must figure out what to do with its own elephant-sized recreations of Taney seated on a throne in Mount Vernon, and of Lee and Jackson riding horses in the Wyman Park Dell.
If you know of any willing buyers, you might ask them to give Mayor Pugh’s office a call.