Montgomery County has erected a wooden box around a Confederate monument recently spray-painted with the words “Black Lives Matter,” in hopes of shielding the statue from further vandalism as officials seek to move it out of downtown Rockville.
County workers put up the barrier Friday, about a week after the words appeared across the base of the 102-year-old bronze statue of a Confederate soldier.
Officials said additional nighttime security lighting also has been added to help safeguard the artifact, which stands on the lawn next to the landmark Red Brick Courthouse and has been granted historic status by the city of Rockville.
The statue was erected in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor county residents who fought for the South in the Civil War. Its inscription urges “that we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”
The national debate over Confederate symbols that followed a June shooting rampage at an African American church in Charleston, S.C., prompted Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to launch an effort to remove the statue.
Leggett — the first African American elected to the Montgomery County Council and Montgomery’s first African American county executive — says he agrees with others who consider the statue part of a neo-Confederate effort to obscure Maryland’s pro-Union leanings. He declared last month that he was moving the statue, which is on land owned by the county.
What Leggett apparently didn’t realize was that the statue’s historic designation means it can be moved only with the permission of the Rockville Historic District Commission. The commission is scheduled to consider the county’s application for removal, on Sept. 17.
Until then, the statue will probably remain behind its wooden shield, with only the cavalryman’s bronze head and shoulders visible.
Historians, community groups and civil rights leaders have met over the past few weeks to grapple with where to move the statue — assuming the commission approves the its relocation.
In a private meeting with County Council staff members and at a public hearing convened by the Rockville City Council, stakeholders have expressed a range of opinions.
Several favored leaving the monument in place but adding explanations to provide historical context — including that Maryland did not secede and that the state sent more soldiers to fight with the Union than with the Confederacy.
“Eradicating history we don’t want to hear or see means we have yet to heed those lessons history serves to teach,” Tony Cohen, a historian and founder of the Menare Foundation, which works to preserve the history of the Underground Railroad and other parts of the slavery era, told the Rockville City Council in July.
Others, such as Rockville council member Tom Moore, said the statue did not belong near the courthouse. Moore suggested placing it at the Beall-Dawson House, a historic Rockville home that was once the property of slave owners and is operated by the Montgomery County Historical Society.
The county’s general services director, David Dise, said Monday that his department is taking bids from companies that specialize in removing monuments and statuary.
The life-size statue and its base weigh about 20,000 pounds, and moving them will require considerable planning. Dise said the gray granite pedestal will have to be removed in pieces.
“I only want to move it once,” Dise said.