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Baltimore park where Confederate statue once stood is rededicated to Harriet Tubman

Baltimore Sun logoBaltimore Sun 3/10/2018 Kevin Rector
Harriet Tubman et al. wearing costumes: Baltimore, MD--3/10/18--A portion of Wyman Park Dell was renamed "Harriet Tubman Grove, " honoring Maryland native Harriet Tubman, an American hero and celebrated "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. The ceremony was held on the 105th anniversary of her death. At left, Council Member for District 14, Mary Pat Clarke addresses a large crowd. At right is Duane "Shorty" Davis, a founding member of Baltimore Bloc displaying a Harriet Tubman t-shirt he's wearing. Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun Staff. © Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun Baltimore, MD--3/10/18--A portion of Wyman Park Dell was renamed "Harriet Tubman Grove, " honoring Maryland native Harriet Tubman, an American hero and celebrated "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. The ceremony was held on the 105th anniversary of her death. At left, Council Member for District 14, Mary Pat Clarke addresses a large crowd. At right is Duane "Shorty" Davis, a founding member of Baltimore Bloc displaying a Harriet Tubman t-shirt he's wearing. Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun Staff.

More than 200 local residents and elected leaders gathered in a tree-lined corner of Baltimore on Saturday to rededicate the space, which had long venerated two Confederate generals, to the famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

“We stand on the shoulders of this great woman,” said Ernestine Jones-Williams, 71, a Baltimore County resident and a descendant of Tubman who spoke on behalf of the family. “We are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed. Thank you, and God bless you.”

The ceremony in Wyman Park Dell, on the 105th anniversary of Tubman’s death, took place feet from the now-empty pedestal of a large, bronze, double-equestrian statue of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The statue had stood in the park since 1948, but was removed in August amid a national reckoning with Confederate symbolism and monuments.

That reckoning began in large part in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine African-Americans to death in a church in Charleston, S.C. It grew in August after a white supremacist rally to protest the planned removal of a statue of Lee in Charlottesville, Va., led to the death of a counter-protester after a neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove into a crowd.

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration removed four Baltimore monuments with ties to the Confederacy — the Lee-Jackson monument, a monument to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney at Mount Vernon Place, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway — days after the Charlottesville rally in an unannounced, overnight operation, citing “safety and security” concerns.

At the event Saturday, city officials and local residents acknowledged the events in Charleston and Charlottesville, but largely focused on more local efforts to have Baltimore’s statues removed, including a grass-roots petition drive.

They said the removal of the statues has embued the spaces where they once stood — like the Harriet Tubman Grove — with their own symbolic power.

“Since the removal of the Lee-Jackson statue, this park has become a gathering place for city residents of all backgrounds to meet, talk and enjoy the location as a space that symbolizes hope and positive change,” said Ciara Harris, a Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks official. “Harriet Tubman Grove will provide the city an opportunity to correct historic injustice to a Maryland native. Our city is properly recognizing an African-American hero.”

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke called Tubman, who was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but went on to lead many other enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a “heroine and beacon for all ages.”

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a longtime civil rights leader who has been working to get Tubman recognized in more official ways across the city for years, thanked the community for its work in renaming the grove.

“You did what needed to be done to say, ‘Yes, we need to move on,’ ” he said.

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, 28, of Abell, who is studying how society re-contextualizes monuments and memorials over time as part of a master’s degree in historic preservation at Goucher College — and who served on the task force formed by Pugh last year to study the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments — said the rededication was a great thing for the city.

“Monuments are seen as permanent, sort of monolithic structures, but inherently their meanings change over time, and really the removal of these monuments was not so much about monuments in general, but about the kind of values that we as a society want to promote,” Gilman-Forlini said. “This is now the next logical step in the process of asserting those values, those positive values of inclusion, of tolerance, of speaking out against prejudice.

“These kind of gatherings in many ways are much more powerful than new monuments may necessarily be, because these are about community action and about the experience of the individual working in a community to assert positive values,” he said. “In that way I think this is really the best thing that we could be doing right now as a means of healing past injustices.”

krector@baltsun.com

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