*Update following the final Jan. 14 public meeting of the special commission named by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to review the city's four Confederate monuments: The seven commissioners voted by a 4-3 margin today to recommend removing the city's Robert E. Lee-Stonewall Jackson monument from Wyman Dell and the Roger B. Taney bust in Mt. Vernon.
The commission also voted to keep, but add context to the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in Bolton Hill and the Confederate Women's monument near The Johns Hopkins University campus in Homewood. The commissioners will meet again privately before issuing their final report to the mayor, which is expected to be completed in 6-8 weeks.
The commission intends to offer the Robert E. Lee-Stonewall Jackson monument to the U.S. Park Service for placement on the Civil War battlefield of Chancellorsville, VA—where the two met in a scene depicted by the sculpture. The bust of Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who issued the infamous Dred Scott decision, is a replica of a similar bust in Annapolis. No consensus was reached by the commission regarding what should be done with the Taney bust, if it is ultimately removed.
The story below was published in Baltimore magazine this month and traces the history of Baltimore's Confederate monuments and the more recent controversy surrounding their ongoing existence and meaning in the city. The story was posted online in mid-December as the commission was holding earlier public meetings:
A Chesapeake Bay breeze blusters across Point Lookout State Park as Confederate flags are raised, the whistling wind and scattering leaves adding solemnity to the funereal mid-October morning. When the Civil War began, the southern tip of St. Mary’s County had been a popular resort, filled with cottages, a hotel, a wharf, and a lighthouse. But after Gettysburg, the Union army turned the peninsula into a massive prisoner-of-war camp. By the end of the bloody conflict, some 50,000 Confederate troops had been interned, making it the North’s largest such institution. Of course, whether Maryland, a tobacco-growing, slavery-legal state that didn’t get around to voting on secession, was—or is—“in the North” remains debatable. Not in dispute is that conditions at Point Lookout deteriorated as its Confederate population exploded—an 80-foot granite obelisk here carries the names of the 3,382 known Confederate soldiers who died while incarcerated on the 40-acre grounds.
All of this, and other reasons, too, is why two-dozen Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) are taking part in this remembrance ceremony. A SCV stalwart, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Zebelean, leads the color guard. The group’s chaplain prays an invocation and a representative from the North Carolina Order of the Confederate Rose, a women’s group, lays a wreath, followed by a musket and cannon salute and the singing of “Dixie.” Not quite a full-on Civil War re-enactment, but similar.
Zebelean, still trim, in a gray calvary officer’s uniform, waist sword included, notes in his address that much has changed from the Civil War’s centennial and the sesquicentennial this past year. A Catonsville native, he is referring, directly, to local and national efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public squares in response to the murders of black churchgoers in Charleston, SC.
“A veritable tsunami of anti-Confederate vitriol,” Zebelean calls the reaction, highlighting the removal of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statue from a Memphis park. (Zebelean doesn’t mention that Forrest was a slave-trader, accused of an infamous massacre of black Union soldiers, and the original Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.)
“In Baltimore, the mayor plans for a commission to advise her on what to do with the Confederate monuments in the city, most of which have been there for more than a century,” he continues. “Like sharks smelling blood, the feeding frenzy is on.”
Zebelean’s remarks are greeted with enthusiasm and cheers. They’re not intended to, nor do they, incite hostility or threats. As the folding chairs are picked up, the Sons of Confederate Veterans mingle in the cemetery’s parking lot with spouses and friends. There’s a tangible camaraderie, not unlike after a football game or, say, a traditional Veterans Day event.
“See, we’re not wearing white hoods,” says Maryland Division SCV commander Jay Barringer, smiling before driving home to Sykesville. “These people are engineers, bankers, and I.T. professionals,” adds Barringer, a North Carolina transplant with an infectious Southern drawl, who helps close the ceremony with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on Scottish bagpipes.
Lost on Barringer, apparently, is the irony that the Christian hymn, published in 1779, was written by a former slave-ship captain named John Newton, whose epiphany during a violent North Atlantic storm led him into the clergy and England’s abolitionist movement.
On June 17, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old with Confederate sympathies, allegedly shot and killed nine Bible study members at Charleston’s nearly 200-year-old Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church. (He has pled not guilty for his upcoming trial.) Ten days later, activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome—coincidentally, a Maryland native—climbed a 30-foot pole outside the South Carolina State House and pulled down the Confederate flag there, an act for which she was arrested. Her protest, however, subsequently inspired further efforts here and throughout the U.S., as Zebelean related, to officially rid public areas of Confederate monuments and imagery.