BLADENSBURG – Residents of Bladensburg and surrounding towns are adamant: they want the Peace Cross World War I memorial to remain where it is. During a crowded Bladensburg Special Town Council Meeting on Nov. 9, 10 people, including four who live in the county but outside of Bladensburg, spoke in favor of the cross. Nobody […]
BLADENSBURG – Residents of Bladensburg and surrounding towns are adamant: they want the Peace Cross World War I memorial to remain where it is.
During a crowded Bladensburg Special Town Council Meeting on Nov. 9, 10 people, including four who live in the county but outside of Bladensburg, spoke in favor of the cross. Nobody spoke out in opposition to the memorial.
The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, also known as the Peace Cross, was constructed in 1925 by the American Legion after the original private donors ran out of money for the project. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) took over ownership of the 40-foot cross and the land it sits on due to safety concerns created by its proximity to a busy intersection.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined in a 2-1 ruling that the bi-county agency’s maintenance of the cross “excessively entangles government in religion.” The American Legion and the M-NCPPC have both filed requests for all 15 judges on the court to rehear the case.
Speakers discussed the possibility of finding other funding sources for the memorial, the significance of the memorial as a marker of the town and symbol of the men who died, and their general agreement that the cross itself does not endorse Christianity.
Bladensburg resident Dan Williams suggested privatizing the ownership of the memorial.
“I get it, the whole idea of public money is funded for the care and maintenance of a religious symbol,” he said. “Well, if you can remove that from the equation, can we just make it go away? Is that sufficient? And, how do we do that? Can we find people who are willing to fund a private foundation, get somebody that wants to spearhead taking it off the public land?”
Larry Maske might have the solution to those questions. Maske, who lives in Coltons Point, said he had started a group of people who are interested in buying the Peace Cross as a historic trust. He said they could also work to renovate the cross, which he described as being in “rough shape.”
“It needs a lot of work, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said. “But, with the help of local businesses, we can get this done and we can save it.
“It’s not about the town, it’s about the people who died for the symbol of the cross. So this is the time when we stop and say, ‘this is our cross. This belongs to our community. This belongs to our state and our citizens, and we love our cross.’ And the option is a privatization of the land and a historic preservation.”
Not everyone agreed privatization is the right route. At least, not yet.
“This is worth the fight. I don’t think this is over,” said Gerron Levi, a candidate for an at-large seat on the county council. “I don’t think we should assume that we have to privatize it yet. I think we should go all the way to the end and determine whether the way you’re currently maintaining it can be maintained.”
Although resident Steve Weitz did not specify what he thinks should be done with the cross’ funding, he said the memorial has special significance for him as a veteran.
“For 92 years, Peace Cross has been a historic monument to honor veterans who gave their lives to protect our country and preserve our freedoms. How can you tear down this historical monument because somebody decided they were offended?” he said. “I’m offended by the disrespect to our veterans in our town. This is a disgrace. This is an insult to veterans and their families.”
Sadara Barrow, mayor of Colmar Manor, said people who are offended by the cross should try to think of it as a war memorial rather than a Christian symbol.
“My faith in general is Islamic. And I have never in my whole life, and I’ve lived around here my entire life, have never ever thought of that cross as a Christian cross,” Barrow said. “In my life, with my family, all of us, we always saw it for what it was, what it is, which is a memorial to people who fought for our freedom. To say that there is a few people who come in and want to be agitated or feel badly about (it), that’s because (their) mind(s) (are) thinking of it differently than what it is there for.”
Though the town of Bladensburg does not plan on establishing a formal stance on the Peace Cross, several councilmembers expressed their appreciation for the memorial.
Councilwoman Beverly Hall said she enjoys the memorial services that are held there, and Councilman Christian Mendoza said although he never saw the cross as religious until recently, he “(doesn’t) understand what the problem is.”
Regardless of how the court rules on the matter, people in Bladensburg are still very supportive of the Peace Cross.
“We’re hoping things unfold in a way where our memorial, which is a part of Bladensburg Memorial Park, is preserved in some sort of format,” Mayor Takisha James said. “And so no matter how the court rulings come out, it’s also good to hear from private citizens and entities that there is support if something else has to happen with that particular memorial.”