Differing Strategies: Experts and activists weigh in on Confederate monuments in Baltimore

Baltimore City Paper

Two different approaches to continuing the conversation on Confederate monuments in Baltimore played out on Thursday, with the second meeting of the Commission to Review Baltimore's Public Confederate Monuments in the morning, and that night, an action by artist-activists who placed an anti-racist sculpture in front of the Lee-Jackson monument in Wyman Park Dell.

The second meeting of the Commission to Review Baltimore's Public Confederate Monuments at City Hall which began at 9 a.m included expert testimony from Eli Pousson, the director of preservation and outreach at local nonprofit preservation organization Baltimore Heritage Inc., and noted sociologist and author James Loewen.

Pousson provided exhaustive evidence linking the Confederate memorials throughout the city to the long-running narrative of racist, revisionist history which is the hallmark of the "Lost Cause" and neo-Confederate movements.

While Pousson reiterated that his testimony wasn't meant to be "representing any specific recommendations regarding the disposition of these monuments," Loewen took a more aggressive stance. Loewen, who also testified before a similar committee regarding the Confederate monument outside the Rockville Courthouse in Montgomery County, praised Pousson's detailed historical contextualization of the monuments before going on to recommend removal of all monuments, even going so far as to propose removing the memorial to Civil War era dissident Severn Teackle Wallis while the commission was at it.

For Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Lies Across America," the monuments represent the concrete manifestations of an insidious process of obscuring and revising history in the favor of racist political movements. He asserted that the statues should be removed "because they state something about the influence of the Confederacy, or neo-Confederates . . . and their still being on the landscape implies that we're still like that." This reasoning is hard to fault, given the shrinelike status the memorials have achieved with contemporary neo-Confederate groups, some of which have taken to holding rallies at the Lee-Jackson monument every Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, a situation Loewen called "just kind of a stick in the eye if you think about [it]."

Three of the four memorials have protected status by Maryland Historical Trust easements, so it is still unclear how quickly alteration or removal of the monuments could be implemented or even whether the monuments would be moved to museums or elsewhere. Commissioners said that they are keeping the Maryland Historical Trust Easement Committee in the loop about their deliberations. Regarding the prospects of removal, Loewen urged the commission to reach a conclusion as soon as possible, warning, "there's going to be at least six months then, and probably considerably more discussion of to where and with what context."

That night, around 7 p.m., a pickup truck carrying a large sculpture pulled up in front of the Lee-Jackson memorial in Wyman Park Dell. A group of 10 activists, including artist Pablo Machioli and activist Owen Silverman Andrews, spilled out and began unloading their own statue. They propped it in front of the memorial and unwrapped the paper-and-found-objects sculpture: a 10-foot-tall, pregnant black woman with a child on her back, fist raised. The group put flowers and candles around the sculpture and took turns writing messages on the base in marker including, "Kiss The Goddess' Feet"; "Fund Black Baltimorean Artists"; and "Peace 2 Everybody."

Silverman Andrews made some brief statements about why this monument specifically was chosen, noting that it depicts two generals and is "meant to induce fear" and represent "white power." He added that it was not erected after the Civil War but much later, in 1948, and is therefore markedly different from contemporaneous monuments built to honor the fallen and defeated soldiers of the Confederacy. The group also chose this statue, Machioli explained, because of its proximity to the Baltimore Museum of Art; Silverman Andrews added that in part, they hoped to draw attention to how often the city arts funding goes to white artists instead of black artists.

City Paper first heard about plans for such an action back in July at a West family event commemorating the second anniversary of Tyrone West's death. (Tyrone West died in police custody in July 2013 and family members continue to hold weekly protests against police brutality.) There, Silverman Andrews mentioned to City Paper that he was planning a replacement for the Lee-Jackson monument. He shared his small sketch of Harriet Tubman, hand in the air, gripping a brick. He was spurred to act on the heels of "the Charleston terrorist attack" on an African-American church in June, he said. A mutual friend introduced Silverman Andrews to Machioli, whose hand-shaped signs made appearances during the Freddie Gray protests and who painted one of the protest murals in Sandtown-Winchester, and the two began planning the action "to create attention" surrounding issues of white supremacy, racism in art, and the Baltimore Uprising.

The statue, which took about two months to construct, doesn't have a title, Machioli said, adding that it wasn't up to him to name it. It's made of scrap material and newspapers, Machioli said, adding that a lot of City Paper issues were gathered to construct the sculpture.

The next day, around 5 p.m., Parks and Recreation Department employees removed Machioli's sculpture as police stood by.

"BPD made it clear they care about protecting art dedicated to white supremacist slave owning war criminals [rather] than art inspired by Black resistance to oppression," Silverman Andrews wrote via email not long after its removal. "Art represents society, so BPD's removal also says a lot about who they serve and protect and who they don't."

On Monday, the Parks and Recreation Department returned the statue to Silverman Andrews and gave him a citation, in violation of Park Rule No. 27: "No person shall install, erect, or construct any sign, building, or structure in any park unless permitted."

"We haven't decided whether to fight the citation in court or not," Silverman Andrews wrote to City Paper on Monday, "but we're sure that art is not a crime and we don't need permission."

The commission will meet on Dec. 15 at the city's Department of Planning and take testimony from the public starting at 5 p.m.

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