Opinion

YOES: Challenging the Racist Legacy of Confederate Monuments

I spent part of Nov. 2 in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park helping load a 500-pound, 12-foot-tall statue of a pregnant, bare-breasted woman of color into the back of a city-owned pick-up truck. It was no easy task.

But, despite her size, the statue was en route this week to its third destination in just a few days, and her future still seems dubious.

However, what is clear is how she arrived at an out-of-the-way storage facility in Druid Hill Park less than 24 hours after being erected on Oct. 29 in the Wyman Park Dell in front of the statue of Confederate icons Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“It will be destroyed, and you will be arrested for disorderly conduct,” was the unequivocal declaration of a Baltimore City police officer around 4 p.m. on Oct. 30, according to community organizer and activist Owen Silverman Andrews.

“He said, ‘Get away from the statue,’ and he grabbed me by the arm and kind of dragged me off to the side and said, `If you step towards it again I’ll arrest you,’” Andrews told the AFRO.

The statue was confiscated by Baltimore police and Baltimore City park rangers and transported to Druid Hill Park. Andrews was subsequently given a citation, and the statue is currently at the Copycat building, an artist enclave on Guilford Avenue.

Andrews is part of a group that placed the statue crafted by artist Pablo Machioli in front of the Lee-Jackson monument, in protest of what it stands for in the minds of many, oppression, racism and White supremacy. “In this case this woman is protesting with the fist up and walking away, giving the back to them (Lee and Jackson),” said Machioli a native of Uruguay. We are being suppressed by violence. So, the best way for me is to show disobedience, but at the same time doing something peaceful and positive and include the community,” he added.

After the massacre of the Charleston Nine during a church Bible study in the summer by a Confederate flag-embracing White supremacist, there has been new scrutiny of Civil War symbols across the country, including Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tasked a seven-member commission to analyze four monuments on city property and hold a series of public hearings. In addition to the immediate removal of all Confederate monuments, the group added new demands this week. It wants the commission to widen the scope of the hearings to include the statue of Christopher Columbus in Druid Hill Park. It wants the city to allow artistic responses to these monuments without fear of being fined or otherwise intimidated by Baltimore police or Baltimore City park rangers. The group also demands more funding for artists, particularly artists of color and women.

The Lee-Jackson monument in particular has sparked the ire of many because it was erected in 1948, almost 100 years after the Civil War was fought, more an affirmation of segregation and institutional racism in Baltimore as opposed to a commemoration of the Civil War. “The monuments are a creation of a period of American history … that’s the nadir of race relations, the sad period from 1890 to 1940,” said James Loewen a sociologist, who recently testified before the city’s Confederate commission.

“That’s when the United States, White folks anyway, were most racist in their thinking more than any other time. That’s when they (the statues) are from. We need to understand that about them and they then also tell us complete lies about the Civil War,” Loewen added. What he alludes to is an inscription on the Lee-Jackson statue that says they fought the war in a “gentlemanly” way. But, according to Loewen, when Lee went through Maryland, his army enslaved every Black person it saw, whether they had been legally emancipated or not.

“For a long time, the slaves back then, and now … our hands are made of gold,” explained Machioli, in reference to the hands of the statue being painted gold. “It (symbolizes) our hands, workers’ hands suppressed hands,” he added. “They can take it away, but they can’t destroy it,” Andrews said. “Even if they destroy it physically, they can’t destroy what happened … they’re only making it stronger.”

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor of the AFRO and executive producer and host of “First Edition,” which airs Monday through Friday 5-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9 FM.

 

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Sean Yoes

Special to the NNPA News Wire from the AFRO

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