Many people in Baltimore woke to a surprise Wednesday morning: Their city removed all its Confederate monuments in the dead of night.
Four monuments honoring the spirit of the confederacy — one of Robert E. Lee, another of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and the Roger B. Taney Monument — were gone by 5:30 a.m., the Baltimore Sun reported.
As word of the statues’ removal got out in the early hours of the morning, the mood in Baltimore turned jubilant.
It wasn’t just locals celebrating the news though.
The powerful images made waves online early Wednesday morning, as thousands applauded the long-overdue decision.
Shout out to the Baltimore City Council for voting to remove all of the confederate memorials so quickly. Let your actions be an example.
— deray mckesson (@deray) August 16, 2017
CONGRATULATIONS, BALTIMORE! After midnight, city police made the rounds of parks and public squares to remove all Confederate statues!
— Anne Frank Center (@AnneFrankCenter) August 16, 2017
“It’s done,” said Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
The city council voted on Monday to remove the statues, The New York Times reported — but the speed at which it happened surprised many. And that was intentional.
“They needed to come down,” Pugh explained of the quiet overnight operation. “My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could.”
The events on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia — as well as President Trump’s response to those events — no doubt pushed Baltimore to move fast.
“Trump accomplishment: the removal of Jackson and Lee after nearly 70 years in Baltimore,” ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis, a journalist who captured much of the removal in real time, wrote on Twitter.
An accomplishment, to be clear, Trump probably isn’t too excited about.
The president was met with a fury of criticism blasting his statements in the wake of the Charlottesville terrorist attack, when an alleged white supremacist plowed his car through a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others.
Trump’s first response was to blame “many sides” — not the white supremacists or neo-Nazis — for the violence. After coming forward with a scripted response on Monday, Aug. 14, more explicitly denouncing racism, the president then fielded questions at a head-spinning press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, Aug. 15. There, he seemingly backtracked on the previous day’s remarks, defending the white supremacists in Virginia and railing against advocates demanding Confederate monuments be removed from public spaces.
“I wonder: Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” Trump said of the monument removal. “You know, you really do have to ask yourself — where does it stop?“
Well, certainly not in Baltimore.
Trump may be fighting a losing battle in his defense of Confederate monuments, as a push to remove such statues gains steam across the South.
White supremacists rallied in Charlottesville over the college town’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. In the wake of Saturday’s violence, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, wants to follow suit. Similar initiatives are taking shape in Dallas, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Jacksonville, Florida, Reuters reported. In May, New Orleans removed its final Confederate monument.
Removing statues can’t fully remove the stains of slavery, of course, nor does it stomp out modern day white supremacy — the kind on display over the weekend, under the guise of “alt-right” or “white nationalist” labels.
But it’s a symbolic gesture that reflects a very real desire to do better.
“It’s major in its own right, but it’s small when it comes to the bigger battle,” said Derek Bowden, a photographer on the scene last night in Baltimore. “It’s a bigger battle. This is a small victory.”