BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Days after protesters toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood, historians are weighing in on how communities should move forward with other statues involving controversial figures.

On Friday, the Canton Community Association announced it will review whether the statue of founder John O’Donnell should stay or go. O’Donnell owned slaves, and present-day Canton sits on land that was once a plantation.

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In Columbus, Ohio, crews removed a statue of Columbus with a crane on Wednesday, while in Connecticut, protesters beheaded a statue of the sailor.

While the line may be clearer with taking down statues of Confederate soldiers, as Baltimore did in 2017, some historians and professors said it’s not as clear for other historical figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both former presidents and slave owners.

“Every day we’re reminded of the legacies and impacts of slavery… that’s something that we can’t get away from as a country, but I think there’s a difference between that and celebrating that history,” Georgetown University professor Soyica Colbert told CBS News last week.


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WJZ spoke with Jim Grossman with the American Historical Association. He said removing the statues would not erase history as some claim, “especially if we put the statues in a museum.”

“When we put someone’s name on a building or we put up a statue to them, we are honoring them in the moment now. In 25 years, our values may change. Our community may change,” he said.

Each generation should get to re-evaluate the statues because lives are complicated, Grossman said.

“The question is very straight-forward: is this someone for which we still wish to honor? If the answer is ‘no,’ you say, ‘Okay. We’re done honoring that person…  and now we’re going to honor somebody else,'” he added.

In the wake of the toppling of Baltimore’s Columbus statue, Gov. Larry Hogan said he agreed there should be a dialogue but called the destruction of property “completely acceptable.”

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As for the statue of O’Donnell, the Canton Community Association said it’s open to suggestions of what to do with it. If it’s removed, the group said they’d potentially donate it to be preserved with appropriate historical context.

Paul Gessler