BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When leaders of Baltimore’s historic Memorial Episcopal Church learned of its surprising ties to slavery, they voted to remove the plaques honoring its founders. But it didn’t stop there; they’re committing $500,000 in reparations over the next five years.

The church’s blemished past was uncovered by Deacon Natalie Conway.

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“Some of my mother’s family (members) were enslaved by the rector of this church,” Conway said.

That rector, a church founder, was also a slave owner. His name was on one of two historic plaques placed at the church’s entrance.

“My first reaction was to get a sledgehammer,” Conway said.

Church leaders voted unanimously to remove them and moved them outside.

“They had to go as quickly as possible,” Rev. Grey Maggiano, the church’s rector, said.

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The decision comes amid widespread calls to tear down statues with ties to slaveowners and segregationists.

“Natalie’s truth and the other members of the congregation’s truth was that those plaques were a constant reminder that their ancestors were enslaved,” Maggiano said.

To make amends, the church is now committing half a million dollars in reparations to Black-led justice programs in west Baltimore.

“We’ve got to make changes in what we do, not just in the symbols on our walls but in the work we do,” Maggiano said.

Now, without the plaques marking a blemished past, there are blank spaces for a brighter future.

“Having these scars back here is a reminder of the terrible things that have been done in the history of this place and also a reminder of how much healing we have been able to do as a community,” Maggiano said.

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Annie Rose Ramos