Baltimore removes statue of slaveowner near its waterfront

April 6, 2021 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) — The city of Baltimore has removed a statue of an Irish-born slave-owning merchant from a square in the neighborhood he founded in 1786.

After the statue of Capt. John O’Donnell was removed from his namesake park in the Canton neighborhood Monday night, Mayor Brandon Scott said his administration is determined to do much more to erase a legacy of racism.

“Countless publicly named monuments, statues, streets, and schools across Baltimore remain that must be reassessed,” Scott said.

“I am committed to dismantling structural oppression in Baltimore by working with the City Administrator to commission a team to establish procedures for reviewing the impact of these cruel monuments while continuing to promote equitable policies to right yesterday’s wrongs,” Scott said.

The statue was installed in O’Donnell Square park just four decades ago, in 1980, by the Canton Improvement Association, which got the neighborhood added to the National Register of Historic Places two years earlier. A marker installed by the administration of William Schaefer, Baltimore’s mayor from 1971-1987, calls O’Donnell “a man of great vision and accomplishment.”

O’Donnell, who was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1749, also owned dozens of slaves.

In 1786, he bought about 2,000 acres along the waterfront and forced dozens of enslaved people to create a plantation, naming the area Canton after the port city in China where he traded for goods.

An online petition to remove the statue began circulating last fall amid national calls to remove monuments honoring people with racist histories. As of Monday night, the petition had 920 signatures. It was started by the Canton Community Association and the Canton Anti-Racism Alliance, which have been working to make the predominantly white waterfront neighborhood more inclusive.

Torbin Green, a volunteer who helps clean the park and CCA board member, told The Baltimore Sun that he was “relieved” that the statue was removed.

“While I would be working in the garden, I would look up and feel like I was on his plantation,” Green said, who’s been helping maintain the park and garden for nearly seven years. “I don’t need a slave owner sanding on a pedestal while I tend to the garden.”

It’s unclear where the statue was taken.