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Baltimore's Walters Art Museum Confronts Namesakes' Support Of Slavery, Confederacy

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A longstanding Baltimore art museum has disclosed some uncomfortable truths about its namesakes.

Leadership with the Walters Art Museum published findings Monday about its founders' support for Confederate causes.

The report said William and Henry Walters not only supported the Confederacy during the Civil War but also did so long after the war's end. Their business success depended heavily on slavery as well.

The museum director said the institution had a social responsibility to publicize the findings about the philanthropists who donated their collection to the city.

Executive director Julia Marciari-Alexander said the museum has been researching its own history for eight years.

"History is not one and done. It isn't one narrative replacing another narrative. It's expanding the narrative that we tell," she said.

The museum said it has a social responsibility to address its past and is planning public programs with more local artists. The Walters name, however, will stay.

"By having the name there, it allows us to confront and requires us to confront and talk about and think about our history," Marciari-Alexander said.

In the summer of 2020, we shared the Walters Art Museum's commitment to advancing diversity, equity, accessibility, and...

Posted by The Walters Art Museum on Monday, March 15, 2021

William Walters' support for the Confederate era continued after the war when he commissioned a statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney near the museum. Taney wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision, and his statue stood until it was removed 130 years later in 2017.

Coppin State University humanities professor Koko Zauditu-Selassie described the museum's move to get ahead of the story and make its history known as "a great strategy to be on the offensive to say, 'This is the past and this is where we're heading in the future.'"

Institutions reckoning with their racist pasts is liberating, Zauditu-Selassie added. In December, Johns Hopkins revealed its founder owned slaves.

"The only difference is now is in its nominalization -- people are naming this is its history. The history always existed," she said.

Marciari-Alexander said addressing the past "is the work that we as a city need to be doing in order to move forward and to create a world that doesn't keep repeating its own history."

With its reopening Wednesday at 25% capacity, the museum will also raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour for full-time employees and $13 for part-time employees.

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