Crews removed Baltimore’s Confederate statues early Wednesday, days after the deadly unrest in Charlottesville instigated by white nationalists rallying to defend a downtown Confederate monument.
The quiet and sudden removal of four monuments, with little fanfare and no advance notice, marks an attempt by the city to avoid a long, bruising conflict that has embroiled Charlottesville and other communities rethinking how they honor figures who fought to preserve slavery.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) announced Monday she was in talks with contractors to haul away the statues, and the city council approved a removal plan that night. Some activists had vowed to destroy the monuments before government could act.
Photos and video posted on social media Wednesday morning showed crews using cranes to remove statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, hauled away on a flatbed truck. Statues honoring Confederate women and Roger B. Taney, the former chief justice who authored the notorious proslavery Dred Scott decision, were also removed.
A statue to Confederate soldiers and sailors, which was defaced with bright red paint over the weekend, is also gone.
On the base of the now-empty Jackson and Lee monument are messages saying “Black lives matter” and “F— the Confederacy,” according to photos shared on Twitter.
Pugh told the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that crews worked from 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to remove the statues. She said swift overnight removal with little fanfare was meant to stave off the kind of violent conflicts that embroiled Charlottesville. That’s a change from Tuesday, when she said in a statement that her office would seek approval from a state panel to remove the Lee-Jackson monument and provide a “public timeline” for monument removal.
“It’s done,” she told the Sun on Wednesday. “They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”
But Carolyn Billups, former president of the Maryland Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, criticized Pugh for apparently bypassing the Maryland Historical Trust, which has easements on the Lee-Jackson monument, in the rush to remove the statues.
“That’s an act of lawlessness in my mind,” said Billups, who lives in St. Mary’s County. “This is a public figure, this is the leader of a city. If you expect or hope that your constituents to respect the law, you have to toe the line.”
A spokesman for the mayor told The Washington Post that Pugh will decide what to do with the monuments after consulting “interested parties.” The mayor’s office is also reaching out to cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried to see if they want the statues.
Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott said the statues should be melted down and used to create a statue of Kurt L. Schmoke, the city’s first black mayor. He praised the mayor’s handling of the issue.
“Taking the right action in a swift way kept all of Baltimore safe,” he said. “My worry was that some young kid that wants them to come down goes out and gets hurt.”
A commission appointed by former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after a white supremacist killed nine African Americans in a historically black church in South Carolian recommended the removal of the Lee-Jackson monument, and signs adding historical context to two other statues. Pugh criticized the inaction following the commission’s recommendations.
She also consulted New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D), who oversaw a contentious removal of Confederate statues this spring. The first company hired to remove New Orleans’s monuments withdrew after receiving death threats.
“Baltimore is setting an example that others should follow,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore), who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. “If this neo-Nazi movement is intent on exacting violence where we have these Confederate statues, then if you take the statues down, you reduce the potential for this kind of divisiveness.”
Across the nation, Confederate monuments have come under renewed scrutiny following widespread disgust at how the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville became a rallying point for white supremacists this year.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Tuesday announced he’d support removing the statue of Taney from State House grounds. The statue had been defended by Democrats and Republicans alike, and Hogan last year described calls to remove it as “political correctness run amok.”
The mayor of Lexington, Ky. is seeking approval to relocate two Confederate-era monuments in the city, citing the Charlottesville clashes for the timing of his decision. Officials in other southern cities have been considering removal as well.
Elsewhere, activists have been pushing to bring monuments down with or without the government’s support. A woman in North Carolina faces felony charges in connection with the vandalism and toppling of a monument to Confederate soldiers in Durham.
President Trump on Tuesday seemed to defend Confederate monuments during a combative news conference where he declared “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, and suggested memorials for slave-owning founding fathers would be next if monuments for Confederate generals were removed.