Following Baltimore's Lead, Maryland Quickly and Quietly Removes Confederate-Era Statue

by | August 18, 2017 AT 11:45 AM

By Pamela Wood

Under the cover of night, a work crew removed the statue of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from the grounds of the State House, ending the monument's 145-year perch on the prominent spot in Annapolis.

At 12:20 a.m. Friday, flatbed trucks with equipment including a large crane pulled onto State Circle, the street that surrounds the State House. Workers cordoned off the front lawn of the historic building and placed straps around the statue.

Just before 2 a.m., the statue was slowly lifted from its base and clipped a few tree branches as it was guided onto a flatbed truck and wrapped. The statue will be moved to a secure Maryland State Archives storage facility, according to an email outlining the operation obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The move comes after mounting pressure to do away with the Taney statue culminated in Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announcing his support for removing it and the State House Trust voting Wednesday to do so. Potential changes to the historic building and its grounds must be approved by the four-member trust.

Taney was chief justice of the United States and author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery and found that black Americans could not be citizens.

The decision has led Taney to be linked to leaders of the Confederacy. Efforts to remove his statue in Annapolis over the years have failed.

But such efforts became more urgent in the past week, and the Annapolis statue -- installed in 1872 -- is the latest monument linked to the Confederate era to go.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered middle-of-the-night removals of four monuments in the city this week: one of Taney, another of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument and a Confederate Women's monument. The Democratic mayor's decision came a year and a half after a city panel recommended that the monuments be moved or altered to add more historical context.

The statue of former U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney, located outside of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, was removed early Friday.

The Baltimore monuments were stored under tarps in a city lot under police protection.

The Taney statue in Annapolis was under close watch by Maryland Capitol Police officers all week. In advance of the late-night removal, a team of workers inspected the statue and took measurements at midday on Thursday.

In the evening, no-parking signs were posted around narrow State Circle.

About two-dozen onlookers gathered around the street as word spread that the statue might come down. About 1:20 a.m., sprinklers turned on, dousing onlookers and workers until the water was shut off about 15 minutes later.

Gwen Norman of Baltimore happened upon the crowd watching the removal of the statue after a night out in Annapolis with friends.

She was pleased that Baltimore had removed its Taney statue and three Confederate monuments, and felt fortunate to witness the Taney removal in Annapolis.

"It was a beautiful thing to wake up and see something so beautiful happened when I was asleep," said Norman, 27.

"It was nice to see Annapolis get prettier tonight," said her companion, 30-year-old Ian Wolfe of Frederick.

The removals were spurred by last weekend's rally by Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. -- ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of Lee there. The rally turned deadly: A counter-protester was killed when a Neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove his car into a crowd, and two police officers monitoring the scene died when their helicopter crashed.

When the Maryland State House Trust members were polled by email on Wednesday, three members voted for removal: Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who represents Hogan on the trust; House Speaker Michael E. Busch; and Charles L. Edson, who represents the Maryland Historical Trust. The trust's fourth member, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, did not vote.

Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, called for the statue's removal Monday. "It certainly doesn't belong there," the speaker said. "It's the appropriate time to remove it."

He said leaving it in place after white supremacists openly rallied "would send a message that we condone what took place, that slavery is alright."

Miller, who does not support removing the statue, sent a letter to Hogan Thursday evening saying the vote lacked transparency because it was held by email rather than in public.

"This was certainly a matter of such consequence that the transparency of a public meeting and public conversation should have occurred," Miller wrote. "This was not an ordinary matter of business before the Trust."

The State House Trust rarely meets in person, often casting votes by email for matters such as approving new plantings on the grounds or giving the go-ahead for performances in the building.

Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, acknowledged "the inflammatory and derogatory language" and the fallout of the Dred Scott decision. But he noted that Taney also "served with distinction" in a series of public offices, including as a state lawmaker, state attorney general and U.S. attorney general.

Miller also noted that Taney freed his slaves and remained loyal to the Union. Miller said Taney's "complex history" is often lost amid discussion.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said "Miller is completely within his right to continue defending Roger Taney. We have to agree to disagree."

Hogan previously supported keeping the Taney statue in place. He reversed course this week, saying removing the monument was "the right thing to do."

"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 Tuesday in a statement.

Miller said the installation of a statue of late Justice Thurgood Marshall -- the first African-American appointed to the high court -- on the opposite side of the State House was "a very public and purposeful compromise to give balance to the State House grounds recognizing our State and our Country have a flawed history."

President Donald J. Trump, who was criticized this week for saying blame for the Charlottesville violence was shared by both sides instead of condemning the white supremacist groups, weighed in on the removal of Confederate monuments in a series of tweets Thursday morning.

"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," the Republican president said on Twitter, a day after Baltimore removed its monuments. "You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson -- who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"

Now that the four Confederate-linked monuments have been taken down, the City of Baltimore must decide what to do with them.

(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun

*CORRECTION: The headline previously misidentified the Roger B. Taney statue as a Confederate statue. He was in power during the Confederate era but was not a member of the Confederate States of America.