Yesterday Roberta and I paid a visit to Baltimore. We always love going there and yesterday was no exception.
She took in the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art, while I explored the surrounding turf. My walk was one of the most enjoyable ones in recent memories, a hoof through the campus of Johns Hopkins and the revitalizing Remington neighborhood, located about three miles north of downtown.
Note: The Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit closes this weekend and advanced tickets are highly recommended.
The “prize every time” discovery was the delightful new R House Food Hall at 301 W. 29th Street. I gambled by choosing the small, nondescript, corner spot and hit the jackpot. Stall 11’s California smoothie (Cardamom, Almond, Banana, Cinnamon and Greek Yogurt) and Kyoto Bowl (Udon Noodles, Korean BBQ Sauce, Charred Broccoli, Sesame, Garlic Chips and Avocado) put me in some kind of culinary state of delight.
Circling back to the museum, I skirted a hilly and wooded public park. With the museum’s tall white columns in the background, I spotted an equestrian statue through the trees. The closer I got, I could see its great size and magnificence. As I walked even closer, I tried to guess who the two bronze figures might be.
Although Baltimore was a hotbed of southern sympathizers, so much that President-elect Lincoln had to sneak through it on his way to Washington, my mouth went agape when I saw the two figures were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
According to a marker there, the prominent Baltimore banker J. Henry Ferguson gifted the monument, erected in 1948 and sculpted by Laura Garden Fraser, to the city. The marker pointed out the monument is a rare double equestrian which depicts Lee and Jackson departing for the Battle of Chancellorsville.
The gift explains the monument being located this far north, and perhaps in 1948 few thought nothing negative of it. Nevertheless, such a magnificent monument did not exactly dovetail with the surroundings.
Coming home, I searched the web and can see where last year a task force in Baltimore recommended this memorial and three others -- 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 Vernon Place -- be removed. Public opinion seems to wholeheartedly support that action.
I completely understand such sentiment. With thoughts of Freddie Gray’s tragic and unnecessary death still lingering, Baltimore residents and others elsewhere remain thirsty for justice.
The Baltimore Sun published an article on this topic. Governor Larry Hogan ended the practice of the state issuing license plates with the image of the Confederate battle flag. Baltimore County officials asked to change the name of Robert E. Lee park to Lake Roland Park.
Those are appropriate measures and should be taken and maintained.
On the issue, however, of memorials being removed, I remain convinced that such things are a bad idea. As I said in the case of Appomattox, the Confederate memorial in Alexandria, cities should adapt a “add, don’t subtract” policy.
Then Baltimore mayor Rawlings-Blake advocated for installing interpretive signage instead of moving the memorials. We applaud her for that decision.
Alan Walden, who was the Republican nominee for mayor of Baltimore, wanted the four monuments to remain.
We, however, don’t agree with his reasoning.
"Why? What kind of signs? What would they say? It's part of American history," Walden said. "You can't rewrite history to make people feel good."
The marker beside the memorial helps answers these questions.
Because public memory is important and hundreds of monuments and markers were erected to tell the story of the Confederates during the Civil War. The commensurate amount of markers for the stories of African Americans has not been reached.
What kind of signs?
Ones such as this one, others including interpretive panels, which can provide an array of images and text.
What would they say?
Not every marker needs a counter narrative, but many do. In this case and others, the "Lost Cause" was a powerful ingredient that proved deleterious to the rights of African Americans.
Note: I will say that the term "signs" throws people off. I prefer "historical marker" and "interpretive marker."
Also, this marker does not have a date of erection. It is important to include that when possible.
Cities and counties will continue to grapple with the issue of reconciliation. The decisions they make are important.
For example, in Alexandria, it appears the city will rename Jefferson Davis Highway (Segment of Route 1 from the border with Arlington to Monroe Avenue Bridge). One possibility under consideration is to name it for the American Revolution-era leader Patrick Henry. This would be an extension of sorts, as Route 1 North in Old Town is named Patrick and Route 1 South is Henry.
Changing the name is a good idea, but we need to be careful with the replacement. Patrick Henry expressed anti-slavery sentiment, but he owned slaves and as the Sublettes point out in their book ("The American Slave Coast, A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry"), Henry worked “to delay freeing the slaves until long after his generation had departed.”
And, of course, he wasn’t alone. The authors add -
That the War of Independence resulted in the strengthening, not the termination, of slavery was not an unexpected outcome for Southerners: protecting slavery had been the point of the war for them. It was the principal Southern political goal at every moment until slavery was destroyed.
As a reminder of the work we have left, perhaps we should rename this part of Route 1 - “Reconciliation Way.” After all, reconciliation is a much-needed learning and healing process, one that will be aided by historical markers, the work we do to try and understand it all and the monuments that have been and might still be erected.