Baltimore quietly removes Confederate statues at night as national debate rages

White supremacist rallies are meeting with resistance while activists call for the removal of other Confederate monuments.

Demonstrators gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. For the second night in a row, people gathered in front of the White House to protest the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Demonstrators gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. For the second night in a row, people gathered in front of the White House to protest the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Baltimore took down Confederate statues late Tuesday night amid growing national tensions over both the removal of similar monuments and white supremacist demonstrations around the country.

Following a plan approved by the Baltimore City Council on Monday, crews arrived with machinery to take the statues away, ending a year of debate. The process took place from around midnight on Tuesday until 5:30 a.m. the following day.

“It’s done,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday morning. “They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”

Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville—which resulted in the deaths of three people—has reinvigorated the push to remove Confederate statues from public spaces. The Charlottesville rally was organized primarily in defense of a statue featuring Gen. Robert E. Lee, which the city plans to remove.

The debate over monuments to slavery is hardly a new issue. Across the country, amid an uptick in violence carried out by hate groups and “lone wolfs”—namely white nationalists—against minority communities, anti-racist activists have coalesced around a key point of contention: the removal of Confederate war memorials, public reminders of racial violence and discrimination.

But in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, officials in cities across the country are grappling with how to respond with new urgency.

In Gainesville, Florida, a monument to Confederate soldiers was taken down quietly on Monday. And in Annapolis, Maryland, a statue of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney—who was responsible for the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which effectively upheld slavery—has lost the support of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who called this week for it to be removed.

“While we cannot hide from our history—nor should we—the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan said on Tuesday.

Angered by officials not moving quickly enough on this issue, some activists have recently taken matters into their own hands. Protesters in Durham, North Carolina assembled Monday night to knock down one monument, the video footage of which circled on the internet immediately afterward.

In addition to grappling with Confederate monuments, officials across the country are also deciding whether to allow white supremacists to assemble on university campuses.

This week, Texas A&M University officials and University of Florida officials both announced they are canceling white nationalist events that were scheduled to take place on their campuses next month, citing safety concerns.

On Monday, A&M officials canceled a September 11 event organized by 51-year-old A&M alum Preston Wiginton that was directly inspired by the events in Charlottesville—”Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M,” proclaimed one press release for the event. Wiginton said prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer would be in attendance.

“After consultation with law enforcement and considerable study, Texas A&M is cancelling the event scheduled by Preston Wiginton at Rudder Plaza on campus on September 11 because of concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff, and the public,” read a statement from the university released Monday.

The move was greeted with relief by many A&M students and alumni, some of whom told ThinkProgress they felt the cancellation marked a refreshing shift from business as usual on a campus often dominated by conservative voices.

“I am happy to see the rally cancelled,” said one alum, who asked that she remain anonymous out of concern for her son, who may one day attend the university. She told ThinkProgress that her time at A&M had been meaningful, but that racial issues in particular had served as a point of tension in the past, something previous administrations at the university had been unreceptive to addressing.

“I respect this administration for taking a stand and protecting its students in a way they had failed to do while I was there,” she said.

A similar decision unfolded at the University of Florida, where Richard Spencer will not be permitted to speak on September 12, university officials announced Wednesday morning.

Although the university’s president, Kent Fuchs, had previously defended the decision to host Spencer on campus—saying it was an important method of upholding the First Amendment—Fuchs released a statement on Wednesday announcing the event will not proceed.

“The likelihood of violence and potential injury – not the words or ideas – has caused us to take this action,” his statement read.

Officials in Boston also announced on Monday that a rally scheduled for Saturday in the Boston Commons had been canceled.

“Boston does not welcome you here, Boston does not want you here, Boston rejects your message,” Mayor Marty Walsh said, addressing members of Boston Free Speech, the group behind the rally. “We’ll do anything in our power to keep hate out of our city.”