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What should a city do with Confederate monuments after they're taken down? Baltimore removed four statues with Confederate ties in an overnight operation last week. NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports the city is grappling with what to do with both the statues and the space they left behind.
MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: If you walked into this park two weeks ago, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson would have towered above you, each on horseback. But now there's nothing on the pedestal except for a few potted plants. That statue and three others are now in a city lot, covered and protected. Baltimore is trying to figure out their ultimate fate like many other cities taking down monuments.
CATHERINE PUGH: And they're coming down so fast. I mean I think - you know, I don't know if we have enough museums to house them or enough cemeteries to stick them in.
KENNEDY: That's Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. She secretly ordered contractors to remove them in a five-hour overnight operation. Pugh says she took action quickly and quietly because she was worried about violence in the wake of Charlottesville. University of Baltimore history professor Elizabeth Nix says the statues had been a matter of city debate for years.
ELIZABETH NIX: There were a wide variety of opinions about the statues and about how we should remember Baltimore's complicated situation during the Civil War and how we should remember the Jim Crow era here.
KENNEDY: During the war, Maryland was a slave-holding state that never seceded from the Union. It had three times more soldiers that fought for the Union than the Confederacy. And after the war, Nix says, many former confederates moved to Baltimore.
The Confederate monuments were put up as late as 1948. Nix says they seem designed to send a racist message to the city's burgeoning group of black professionals. In a deeply segregated city, these issues still resonate.
NIX: There's a difference between honoring people from history and having a memory of people from history. So I think those statues can exist in the proper context, but where they were was not their proper context.
KENNEDY: She recommended placing the Lee-Jackson monument in context at the Chancellorsville Civil War battlefield. That's the site of the general's conversation depicted in the monument. Now Mayor Pugh says Baltimore officials are considering sending the monuments to museums or Civil War cemeteries. City Councilman Brandon Scott is opposed to putting Confederate statues on any public land.
BRANDON SCOTT: Because you're saying, OK, we don't want it here because it disrespects the black people here, the women here, et cetera. But you send it there, and those people have to see it each and every day.
KENNEDY: He has a more radical idea.
SCOTT: Personally, I think that they should be melted down or repurposed for statues that can show true Baltimoreans and true Americans - great American history.
KENNEDY: He suggests depicting people like abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass or Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice. But the mayor says she doesn't want to destroy the statues.
And whatever the city decides to do with them, there's also the question of what to do with the empty pedestals where they once stood. Mayor Pugh likes the idea of using these public spaces to honor people who have made positive contributions to the city. She also doesn't want people to forget what stood there before.
PUGH: Because I think it is important that people know what did stand there and why and the reasons for which they came down.
KENNEDY: Retired city employee Charles Hopwood is one of the people who have come to see the Lee-Jackson site. This is what he suggests.
CHARLES HOPWOOD: Keeping it empty makes a statement on its own. And have a little sign in front of it with a picture of what was here and what isn't. That is making a historical statement on its own.
KENNEDY: The statues came down in a matter of hours, but deciding what to do next could take time. And the mayor will make the final call. Merrit Kennedy, NPR News, Baltimore.
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