The commission tasked with deciding the fate of the city’s four monuments with ties to the Confederacy met on Oct. 29 at Baltimore City Hall.
Members of the four-member panel heard from two experts – Eli Pousson, director of preservation outreach at Baltimore Heritage and James Loewen. Loewen is a historian and professor who also helped leaders in Montgomery County decide what to do with their monuments.
Both Pousson and Loewen detailed the untruths that led many Americans to feel loyalty to the Confederate cause, long after the Civil War was over.
“Our research has been driven by a series of questions,” Pousson said. “Who built the monuments and statues we are discussing today? Why did they choose to honor Confederate rebellion when Maryland remained part of the union during the civil war? What meaning did the monuments hold when they were first erected? What meaning do these monuments hold today?”
“We can look back to a moment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when popular publications, exhibitions, reunions, parades and memorials all worked together to transform the story of the Confederacy from a slave holders’ rebellion into a noble lost cause fought by brave and honorable men for a cause of state’s rights.”
Loewen told commission members that the untruths about the Confederate cause continue today. He said schoolbooks further advance the cause of “neo-confederates” – people who think of the Confederacy as a source of pride.
“Leaving these statues in important places conveys…to everybody…that we value the Confederacy – that they were just as right as the Union,” Loewen said.
“That’s bad history. That’s the kind of history that in an extreme form leads to Dylann Storm Roofs,” he said, referencing the man accused of killing nine black South Carolina church members in June.
Loewen told commission members that he recommended that the statues be removed. He said that doing so in Montgomery County “lowered the decibel level” in the conversation about race and history.
“Otherwise this is going to keep happening,” he said, gesturing to a photo he had used in his presentation. The photo was of a confederate monument with the words “Black lives matter” spray-painted on it.
Loewen also told commission members that in Montgomery County, although the people who wanted the monuments to remain untouched were not exactly happy with the decision, they accepted the inevitable and were ready to discuss what to do next.
Following the testimony, commission members debated what steps they should take next, and whether more testimony was needed.
Commission member Elford Jackson asked whether the council should hear testimony from opposing views, since both of the testimonies were so similar.
However, Pousson said that his presentation should not be seen as one-sided or biased, and told commission members that he was not recommending one side over another.
At issue are the Roger Brooke Taney Monument, located in in Mount Vernon Place; the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located on Mount Royal Avenue; the Confederate Women’s Monument, located at the intersection of North Charles Street and University Parkway; and the Lee and Jackson Monument, located near the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Commission members must decide what to do with the monuments. Some options include allowing them to should stay as they are, be moved elsewhere, or be changed with new signage or be removed all together.
The next meeting will be held on December 15 at City Hall. More information is available at baltimoreplanning.wix.com/monumentcommission.
Words By: Lisa Snowden-McCray
Special to the NNPA News Wire from the AFRO