Mayor Catherine Pugh knew she wanted to rid the city of its Confederate monuments, she says. She just wasn’t sure how, and how to time it.
Her answer came suddenly early this week, Pugh said during a press conference at City Hall this morning. On Monday, she spoke with City Council President Jack Young, then with his 14 council colleagues. She said she determined that “with the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important we move quickly and quietly…and so that’s what I did.”
Pugh made her decision on Tuesday morning, and sent out the order for overnight removals of Baltimore’s four controversial statues memorializing Confederate generals, soldiers and families, and one notorious Supreme Court chief justice. All four monuments came down between 11:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.
Pugh said she was overseeing the removals through the early morning. Responding to a query about where the statues were taken after being carted off in flatbed trucks, she replied nonchalantly, “I suspect they’re out of the city. I’ve been up all night.”
Feverish debate swept through U.S. cities early this week over what to do with America’s Confederate statues. On Saturday, hundreds of torch-carrying white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Va., to challenge the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
What followed was utter chaos: neo-Nazis clashed in the streets with counter-protesters, boiling over to a point where a 20-year-old white supremacist sped into a crowd with his Dodge Challenger, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Later that day, two Virginia state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed. About 15 others were injured in additional incidents on Saturday.
A tide of protest emerged in liberal Baltimore. Activists gathered at the Wyman Park Dell to call for the removal of the hulking statue of Lee and fellow Confederate general Stonewall Jackson mounted on their horses. Someone later tagged that same monument with “Black Lives Matter” and other graffiti. Another statue in Bolton Hill was defaced with a hefty amount of red paint.
Mayor Pugh said on Monday that she planned to proceed with the removals of all four statues, two more than recommended under a plan from a commission formed during ex-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration. The Baltimore City Council unanimously adopted a resolution that evening to tear them down. But as the public waited, some grew antsy. Activists spread word yesterday that they would begin tearing down statues themselves if the city didn’t do it first.
Pugh has previously criticized the Rawlings-Blake administration for leaving her with the task of removing the monuments, despite having had months to act on the commission’s recommendations published last August. She made another dig at her predecessor today, slyly telling reporters, “I’m not a person who takes a lot of time to get things done.”
Rawlings-Blake responded with a pointed tweet that she’s since deleted: “11 months after the report. 8 months into the Administration. #Priorities”
Pugh said on Monday that she had formed a commission to raise money for the removals. In May, she said such an effort could cost at least $200,000 per statue, citing estimates from Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, who’d recently completed a similar monument extraction in his city.
Asked about costs today, Pugh said she couldn’t give an estimate. (She noted she’d been informed at some point that the monuments would be “easy to move.”) Construction firm Whiting-Turner helped with the overnight work, the mayor said. The cost would likely appear on a future Board of Estimates Agenda; Pugh said she hopes it will be billed as “good will.”
While the future homes of the four statues remain uncertain, Pugh mentioned Maryland has its own Confederate cemeteries, as do other states. A university also previously reached out to the city about taking one or multiple statues, though Pugh said she wasn’t sure if they followed through on that idea.
This morning, the bases of the statues sat mostly empty, save for the one in the Wyman Park Dell that had been covered in anti-hate graffiti, with Pablo Machioli’s “Madre Luz” sculpture of a pregnant black woman with her first raised looming nearby.
The mayor proposed putting a plaque in each monument’s place “that tells what was there and why it was removed.”
“I don’t think that you can remove a statue when it is a part of the history of this nation – and I don’t know why they were put there, I wasn’t here at that time – but I do know that they’re offensive to many people in this nation,” she said.