Removing Civil War statues the first step in finally defeating the Confederacy
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One has to wonder why it took almost 150 years after the confederacy lost the Civil War for leaders of U.S. cities to begin questioning why their taxpayers maintain prominently displayed statues honoring the vanquished.

With his brave decision to remove four confederate statues from his city, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has done the nation a huge favor by clearly explaining the difference between remembering and glorifying and by reminding Americans that the Confederacy was on “the wrong side of humanity.”

Now Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh has announced her willingness to remove and possibly sell statues honoring confederate era figures, including one of Justice Roger B. Taney who famously wrote that slaves and their descendants, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” in his Supreme Court decision denying citizenship to blacks.

Why would Baltimoreans want to live and pay taxes in a city with public statuary that undermines their own value, humanity, and citizenship?

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It is precisely because of what these figures said and did to dehumanize, oppress, and exclude people of African descent, that the removal of confederate statues is more than just a rhetorical exercise for Baltimore — a city that is 65 percent African American and whose residents continue to live with but who desperately need to be liberated from its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and discrimination.

 

Despite gleaming new Inner Harbor developments, in many respects Baltimore remains a Southern city (Maryland is officially south of the Mason Dixon line) steeped in the traditions of the Deep South.

Its prominent harbor once served as a hub for the domestic slave trade, carrying people held as slaves to New Orleans and other ports in the Deep South. One of its main thoroughfares, Pratt Street, which runs along the harbor and today teams with tourists and ball game fans, is where many traders in human flesh built their slave pens.

An unassuming yet charming red brick building that once served as the President Street train station stands at the entrance to Baltimore’s swank Harbor East development. Now the site of the Baltimore Civil War Museum, it was here where in 1861 a regiment of white union soldiers stopped to transfer rail lines on their way to D.C. from Massachusetts in the earliest days of the Civil War.

As they made their way from the President Street Station to the Camden station by way of Pratt Street, they were attacked by an angry white mob that sympathized with the Confederacy. Four union soldiers and 12 rioters lost their lives that day, making Baltimore—not Fort Sumter—the first place where blood was shed during the Civil War.

Although Baltimore’s political and social elite favored joining the Confederacy, their desires were preempted by President Abraham Lincoln who sent in federal troops to impose martial law and arrest confederate sympathizers during the war’s early days.

Despite the conflict, the Union army ended up using Baltimore and its port and railways as a base of operation during the Civil War.

There are several reasons why this history matters for today and tomorrow. As the nation has seen clearly with the rise of intolerance and hate in recent years and months, the dangerous and socially destabilizing antiblack sentiments of the past — now co-mingled with Islamophobia and anti-immigrant xenophobia — didn’t disappear with the gains of the Civil Rights Movement or the passage of time.

In fact, this culture of white supremacy — which many portray as having gained steam in the Obama era and become mainstreamed in the Trump era, has never left many localities where the biased values of the past, fostered by the Lost Cause movement, have been enshrined in public statuary, policies, and practices.

This is especially true in Baltimore, and other cities like it, where structural inequalities lead to socioeconomic outcomes so lopsided and poor for African Americans as to beg the question about whether the Confederacy truly lost the Civil War.

After losing its once thriving manufacturing base, Baltimore City is now attempting to reinvent its economy by incubating or attracting new firms in highly skilled industries such as biotech, financial, and health services. 

With the nation’s changing demographics, expanding automation, and increased global economic competition, the importance of innovation and diversification has never been greater.

Yet, with the legacy of Baltimore’s racialized past shaping its racialized present, a sizable portion of the city’s majority black population — including too many children, youth, and teens — remains marginalized and, as a result, ill-equipped to be included in this new economy; a formula that without significant structural changes almost guarantees future political, social, and economic instability that will affect all of Baltimore residents and businesses.

Baltimore leaders and people of good will across the nation must challenge the retrograde forces seeking to expand their influence in our public life by embracing an inclusive equity agenda that maximizes the talent and contributions of all people.

At the end of the day, what a city glorifies is a representation of the values that inform its priorities, investments, and actions. If Mayor Pugh follows through on removing Confederate statues, her actions will at long last begin the process of dismantling an unjust system that prevents all of Baltimore’s residents, and the city itself, from reaching their greatest potential. 

A Baltimore resident, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is a political scientist, author, speaker, policy analyst, and social entrepreneur. She is the president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions LLC and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a think tank and action organization focused on driving society toward inclusion.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.