The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has recently published information acknowledging its founders’ connections to the Confederacy.
William Thompson Walters (1819‒1894) and his son Henry Walters (1848‒1931) were businessmen-philanthropists who profited off of the Southern slave economy. During the Civil War, William Walters used his wealth to fund opposition to the Union and organized a protest against Union troops being transported through Baltimore on the railroad. This protest resulted in the first death of the Civil War.
Both Walters also funded art that honored heroes of the Confederacy. William Walters commissioned a portrait of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, the judge who delivered the Dred Scott decision. The younger Walters provided funds to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for a monument in Wilmington, North Carolina of George Davis, attorney general of the Confederacy. Both of these works were removed from public view only within the last few years.
Julia Marciari-Alexander, the museum’s executive director, connected publishing this information about the founders to the museum’s new diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion plan. “It’s really important to think about how we as a field can unpack our history as institutions that were created by the collections of individuals and institutions that are themselves part of a system that promoted systems of oppression and white supremacy,” Marciari-Alexander told Artnet.
The Walters Museum plans to continue researching the histories of William and Henry Walters and exploring the the institution’s role in systems of oppression.