An activity that my fiancee, Anna and I enjoy immensely is going for a relaxing hike through Robert E. Lee Park. Robert E. Lee is a great place to get away from the rigors of city life without ever leaving the city. Each hike provides us the chance to commune with nature, meet new dogs and people and just enjoy quiet time together under a canopy of trees.
I have to admit that occasionally I feel a little weird that I enjoy so much solace in a place named after the Commanding General of the Confederate Army. As a matter of fact, we Baltimorons commingle with historical elements of the Confederacy all the time and if you are from here it probably doesn’t even rate a blip on your personal radar. I would guess that Baltimore has more monuments to the Confederacy than any other city in any other state that WASN”T a part of the Confederacy. I’m sure that many of you reading this know that Maryland’s shared border with Pennsylvania is indeed the Mason-Dixon Line so that technically we are Southern. I’m also sure that many of you know that Maryland was “neutral” during the Civil War.
It couldn’t be more evident that while Maryland may have chosen( or were forced to choose)neutrality, many of it’s citizens during the war years and for many years after were anything neutral on the subject. This evidence is indeed in the civic monuments honoring the secessionist sympathies of slave holders and those who unashamedly supported this inhumane device.
Arguably, the monument with greatest artistic merit is the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Memorial at Mt. Royal Avenue and Mosher Street. This statue is essentially a part of the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art and it was during an ArtScape festival that I took a photo of the statue, not even realizing what it was memorializing. It is indeed, quite beautiful. Included in the inscription are the Latin phrases, “Gloria Victis”, meaning “Glory to the victor” and “Deo Vindice”-“God vindicates. Incredible, right? I can’t imagine a deity endorsing the cause of the South and lest anyone forget; they lost.
Maybe most remarkable is the enthusiasm that met the unveiling of this monument. I found a photo from that day and it would appear that there are at least a few hundred people in attendance.
I am extremely proud that Baltimore is the home of the FIRST Washington Monument. I love it’s beauty and strength and how it sits so proudly in the center of the city. Facing this great statue, less than a block away is the statue honoring Roger B. Taney, (pronounced, “Tawney”) He was the Maryland born Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court who authored the infamous Dred Scott decision. This dictated that slaves could not win their freedom by escaping to a free state AND that no black person could be a U.S. citizen. Yup! Go and give this guy a statue and as a matter of fact, let’s give him this statue in 1887. That’s 22 years after the Civil War, friends. The city fathers gave their blessing.
This final memorial might be the most shocking yet when one considers it’s size, inscription, location and the date of it’s dedication. Facing the Baltimore Museum of Art on Art Museum Drive is a monument to Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. It was commissioned by a man named J. Henry Ferguson. I didn’t bother entering his name into a google search because I figure that I already know all that I need to. This statue is massive, solid, elegant and all around impressive and is a testament to the skill of the artist and I’m sad to admit that I can’t remember the sculptor’s name as I type this. What kills me about this one is that J. Henry Ferguson ordered that the inscription read, “They were great generals and Christian soldiers and waged war like gentlemen.” I guess one out of three ain’t bad. Now here’s the shocker…This statue was dedicated in my beloved hometown in…drumroll please! 1948!!
What I do enjoy though, is that the subjects of this statue are almost perfectly facing the front of the BMA and on the first floor of the BMA is a wonderful exhibit of African Art. I like to fantasize that the folks in charge of curating the exhibit did that purposefully so that Jackson&Lee would have to stare at the great variety of culture that they fought destroy. I can’t imagine that’s true but I’m weird in my musings sometimes.
I love our history. I love it’s many contradictions and I am honored and humbled to be an American. The History of this great City of Baltimore informs and inspires me. But can you imagine being African American in a city that honors those that would eradicate the dignity of your being. I experience moments almost daily that appear to me to be the residue of institutionalized racism and I wonder if we will ever fully reconcile ourselves with this great weight.
Right now, I could use a good walk in the park.
I must divulge that much of the information presented in this blog is derived from Tom Chalkley’s excellent article, “Battling Monuments” that appeared in The CityPaper 3/11/98 and is easily found with a quick google search.