Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Monumental

http://www.citylab.com

Hello Everyone: 

It is Wednesday which means it is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum. Today, rather than continue to focus on Charlottesville, Virginia, Yours Truly would like to talk about something different, albeit related, topic: the removal of Confederate monuments.  Before Yours Truly launches into today's subject, a word or two ( three, four, five dozen at least) on President Donald Trump's impromptu and chaotic news conference at Trump Towers in New York City.  

Mr. Trump you showed your true colors.  You notice that Yours Truly does not refer to POTUS by the proper honorific, Mr. President.  This is intentional.  This is a title that is earned through a demonstration of political and moral leadership.  Over the past nearly seven months POTUS has done neither one.  Your response to the disgusting and horrific events in Charlottesville are the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake. By defending the white supremacist groups and attacking the counter protestors, you showed the entire known solar system exactly the kind of person you are.  You are the kind of person who is not above defending groups that advocate violence and hatred when it suits your purpose.  In your prepared statement on Monday, you said racism is evil.  Do you believe it?  Do you believe that a Confederate monument is symbolic of a society based on the kidnapping, subjection, and exploitation of human life?  Do you believe that the policies you and members of administration and Congress support perpetuate racism and bigotry today?  Mr. Trump, if you want earn the title of Mr. President, you need to act like it.

Alright, Yours Truly has had her say.  On to today's subject: how the city of Baltimore quietly removed its Confederate monuments overnight.

The city of Baltimore is a beautiful city in the state of Maryland.  Yours Truly does have a slight biased toward the city having visited it a few times.  The city, named for Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, is lies at sort of a half way point between the former Union states (i.e. the North) and the Confederate states (i.e. the South).  During the Civil War (1861-65), Maryland fought on the Union side and Baltimoreans waivered between the two sides.  The city is also home to multiple Confederate monuments (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017) thanks to efforts of wealthy patrons with Southern sympathies (http://www.cdn.knightlab.com; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).  In today's edition of the online journal CityLab, David Dudley looks at how the city quietly removed those statues in his article "How Baltimore Removed Its Monuments Overnight."  Mr. Dudley writes, "After years of debate and deliberation among city leaders, preservationists, historians, and activists about what to do with the city's trove of CSA [Confederate States of America]-themed statuary, the move by Mayor Catherine Pugh to remove all four of theme at once overnight offered a sudden and unambiguous resolution."

The removal operation had a cloak and dagger element to it.  The operation began under the cover midnight and was completed before the sun rose.  Mayor Pugh and group of reporters watched as team of workers, surrounded by police, used a crane to pick up "the largest of the monuments-twin equestrian statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that have stood in Wyman Park, steps from the Baltimore Museum of Art since 1948..."

The equestrian statues and  other statues were just removed.  No fanfare, no protests, no violence, nothing.  They were just hoisted off their base.  What greeted early morning joggers at a small park across the street from Johns Hopkins University was a polished granite base, missing a statue.  The MIA statue was of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Maryland-born judge who authored the 1857 Dred Scott decision.  It an other Jim Crow-era monuments were pulled up and simply hauled way.  Baltimoreans woke up to the headlines that this long festering "controversy over racially inflammatory artifacts was simply over"

David Dudley reports, "The Lee-Jackson memorial had been squarely in the crosshairs of local activists for many years."  In September 2015, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed a commission of academe its and officials to review the city's four Confederate monuments, following the shooting deaths of nine African Americans in the Mother Emmanuel Church in South Carolina.  The commission recommended removing the statues.  The monuments included: the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway, the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernaon Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson Monument in the Wyman park Dell (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 14, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).

Initially, the commission recommended getting rid of the Taney and the Lee-Jackson statues; posting a sign next to the other two to provide historic context.  Mayor Pugh expressed frustration that the process was not further along, noting that former Mayor Rawlings-Blake had the commission's report on her desk for nearly a year before leaving office.  Mayor Pugh told reporters that she planned to go further than the commission concluded.  She said, We're looking at all four of them. (Ibid)

The move was not without pushback.  Carolyn Billups, the former president of the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy argued that the city should spend their money on other things.  Ms. Billups said,

The were all put up with an honorable intention...They were not erected as a show of racism. (Ibid)

Carolyn Billups vowed, if necessary, she would try to prevent the removals.  She told reporters,

I'm not sure if it's practical to chain myself to it, but something has to be done along those lines...I'm serious about spending days, weeks, whatever it takes to defend the monument."  (Ibid)

On Monday, August 14, 2017, Councilmember Brandon Scott introduced a resolution to have the monuments destroyed.  The fifteen member city council unanimously voted in favor for the resolution but not before there was some debate.  Councilmember Eric T. Costello said, "he wanted the monuments gone but believed destroying artworks goes down a dangerous path." Council member Ryan Dorsey argued they all should be destroyed: The very least we can do is destroy the symbols we have of oppression. (Ibid)

While the Baltimore City Council was debating destroying versus simple removal, the activist collective Baltimore Bloc tweeted that they were organizing a group to take matters into their own hands.  This tweet followed the successful toppling of a statue in Durham, North Carolina on Monday.  (http://www.twitter.com/BmoreBloc; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017).  The collective announced that they planned to take action at 6pm today (Eastern Standard Time).  However, the city beat them to it.  By the wee hours of the morning, the Lee-Stonewall equestrian statues were consigned to the history books.  In their place was an empty, graffiti-cover base; standing next to it was and anti-racist statue called Mother Light saluting the plinth with a raised fist.

David Dudley writes, "It's not yet clear how Baltimore's skillfully executed night raid on the Lost Cause fits into the larger and still-unfolding national crisis triggered by the Charlottesville crisis and President Trump's unsettling embrace of white nationalism."  For many the sole question is: "What took so long?"  Baltimore is a majority African American city in a Union state.  Republican governor Larry Hogan released a statement supporting the removal of the Justice Taney statue from the statehouse property in Annapolis. (http://www.washingtonpost.com; Aug. 15, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017) From a political perspective, Mayor Catherine Pugh's preemptive striking was a no-brainer.  Mr. Dudley adds, "The fate of memorials in cities and towns in Southern states is likely to be resolved more contentiously."

Locally, the night time toppling of the statues brought good news to a city weary from  the constant stream of violence.

The swift, peaceful, and lawful way the removal was executed-all the necessary permits in hand-"served as a desperately needed demonstration that the civic compact was not hopelessly broken.  Baltimore City Paper reporter Brandon Soderberg report this morning that the crowd was in a partying mood.  Mr. Soderberg wrote, 

...Even the police seemed to be in the mood.  Capt. Sean Patrick Mahoney of the Baltimore Police joked with the crowd and warned them to be safe.

"Take selfies," he said.  "Enjoy it, all right?  But be very careful, once that thing starts moving, start taking a walk for me, will you?"... (http://www.citypaper.com; Aug. 16, 2017; accessed same day)

For once, the Mayor, City Council, and Baltimoreans were all in agreement.  Lest you think this was all done ad hoc, there was a plan, professional were hired for the job, and best of all no got hurt.  For a city that has frequently signified urban dysfunction, "this was an effective display of municipal competence, proof that we are, despite everything, a governable community."  Yours Truly always believed that Baltimore was way better than the media depictions.  Now we have proof.  Way to go Charm City.

Baltimore defied its troubled history in another way.  Removing a statue or statues is an anomaly for a city once famous for building them.  In the 1830s, Baltimore earned the nickname "The Monumental City," for its enthusiasm for memorial creating. (http://www.baltimoresun.com; Aug. 15, 2017; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017). Indeed, no sooner had the smoke cleared from the battle of Fort McHenry, Baltimoreans set about fund raising to build a War of 1812 battle monument. (http://www.wikipedia.org; date accessed Aug. 16, 2017). In 1815, the city began construction on the 178-foot-high Washington Monument, the first national tribute to George Washington.  Baltimore residents like to boast that it pre-dates the Washington Monument in D.C.  More recently, the city has commissioned statues of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall,former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Yankees baseball legend Babe Ruth, and native son Frank Zappa.  Monument making is something that Baltimore does really well.  Now there are new places to put them.