It’s not really about the monuments, is it?
The racist display in Charlottesville over the weekend that ended in clashes and death was supposedly over a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The white supremacists who gathered in Virginia claimed they were protesting the statue’s removal.
Baloney. That statue was their excuse to light tiki torches, fly Confederate and Nazi flags, play commando dress-up and yell the hate they’ve been echoing to one another for years now.
President Trump lamented the loss of these monuments in a Thursday morning tweetstorm: “Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish.”
Meanwhile, the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson weighed in, and they weren’t on Trump’s side.
“The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy,” William Jackson Christian and Warren Edmund Christian wrote in a letter published in Slate. “We are ashamed of the monument. . . . Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never intended as benign symbols. Rather, they were the clearly articulated artwork of white supremacy.”
And here’s more irony: Those Confederate monuments don’t mean that much to the people they are supposed to outrage, either, as I discovered in Baltimore after four memorials were spirited out of the city in the dead of night.
“Didn’t offend me any,” said an African American man who came to take pictures of the empty pedestal that once held Lee and Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. “Leave ’em. Take ’em. Doesn’t mean anything to me. Doesn’t affect my life.”
In Baltimore, the city where the first assassination plot against President Abraham Lincoln was hatched in the state that harbored John Wilkes Booth after he shot the president, the Confederate monuments haven’t really been a rallying point — for anyone.
Still, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) decided to order the quiet removal of the monuments.
Across the country, from Kentucky to California, city leaders are moving to get rid of the Confederate memorials before they become flash points. In Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, Mayor Levar Stoney (D) said the statues along Monument Avenue must go. And one in a Birmingham, Ala., park was covered in plywood and tarps this week.
The Baltimore City Council had started talking about getting rid of its monuments in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans at a Bible study inside a Charleston, S.C., church. They’d continue to discuss it as New Orleans removed its monuments this year.
But Pugh — watching the ugliness unfold in Charlottesville — didn’t think it was wise to wait. In a city with real problems — a soaring homicide rate, a crippling heroin epidemic, struggling schools — a clash with white supremacists would be a calamity.
It was done without fanfare, before there were protests and demonstrations, counterdemonstrations and riots. Baltimore is good at unrest, remember?
“If those guys came here, there would be blood on the streets, it would’ve been all-out war,” said one of the residents who came to check out the empty space above a pedestal.
In the posh Mount Vernon neighborhood, people walking tiny dogs on cobblestones paused Wednesday morning.
“It’s gone,” one dog walker told another, as she looked into the air that was once occupied by a stern, bronze Roger B. Taney, a Supreme Court justice and slavery defender who said black people could not be U.S. citizens in the 1857 Dred Scott decision.
The Taney pedestal wasn’t empty a full day before Baltimore artist Shawn Theron drove up to it, pulled out a ladder and climbed it, erecting a painting of his that said “SPREAD LOVE.”
Taney’s statue in Annapolis may not survive much longer either. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wants to remove it from the State House grounds.
In Baltimore, it’s a done deal: Gone, gone, gone and gone. Empty stone pedestals remained where the reminders of America’s deepest divide once stood.
For some, it was a positive move toward righting history. Michael Brown said the monument deeply offended him every time he drove past.
“Every day I saw it, it was a reminder, a constant reminder,” said Brown, a 53-year-old African American pool-table mechanic who drove to the site to see the emptiness. “And especially having them here, in front of a place of learning. That wasn’t appropriate. And now we can move on.”
But truth be told, of the dozens of folks I talked to, Brown was one of the few who had an opinion on the statue.
“It’s just men on horses. That’s all it was to me,” said a black woman walking past the pedestal, still in her chef’s coat, fresh off work. To her, taking time to be offended by a bunch of bronze is a luxury.
“For a long time, I didn’t really know what it was,” said Donique Beauford, 34, who is black and stopped to check out the Lee and Jackson pedestal.
Still, she’s glad it’s gone. Same with Ericka Boyd, 46, a black Baltimorean who wanted to see the void left behind after Taney was removed.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t even know who that was,” Boyd said. “Now that I know, yes. I’m glad he’s gone. There’s no reason for that to be here.”
She was surprised by the middle-of-the-night operation.
“That part reminded me of the Colts,” she said, remembering the terrible night in 1984, when Baltimore’s football team packed up — literally — in the middle of the night and took off for Indianapolis.
She loved the Colts. They meant a lot to the city.
The statues? Nope.
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