BALTIMORE — A founder of the Baltimore art collection that bears his name campaigned for the Confederate cause along with his son, a revelation that comes from a museum whose spokesman says it’s trying to show its role in inequality over the years.
The disclosures come as institutions such as the Johns Hopkins University and art museums in the U.S. and Europe are exploring and sharing shameful parts of their pasts, The Baltimore Sun reported.
During their lives and after, William Thompson Walters and his son, Henry, were praised as visionary philanthropists who developed and bequeathed the world-class art collection that’s among the city’s crown jewels.
But research conducted by the Walters Art Museum made public Monday revealed William and Henry Walters pushed the Confederate cause in every way possible.
William Walters helped organize a protest that led to the Pratt Street Riots of 1861, resulting in the Civil War’s first casualties, according to the museum. He advocated for a secessionist party ticket to represent Baltimore in the state legislature.
A sculpture commissioned by William Walters in 1887 has been removed from Mount Vernon Square in Baltimore. It’s a 7-foot bronze likeness of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision denying U.S. citizenship to Black Americans.
For 130 years, Taney’s statue was positioned in the north garden directly facing the Washington Monument. It came down in 2017 along with three other Confederate monuments on the orders of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Henry Walters was a teenager during the Civil War, but as an adult he celebrated the Confederacy. In 1909, he donated funds to erect a statue in North Carolina honouring George Davis, former attorney general for the Confederate states. The city of Wilmington removed the monument last year.
”We didn’t just want to confront our history,” said Walters’ director, Julia Marciari-Alexander. ”We wanted to embrace it. It’s important to make it clear how the museum’s practices have contributed to larger racial and societal inequities in this city and country.”
It’s the first step in a multipronged approach that’s been in the works since 2013 to make the museum a more diverse, accessible and welcoming institution. It plans to expand its educational outreach to city schools and is devising internal pay equity procedures.
The Associated Press