As a child, Renee Green said she saw the Bladensburg Peace Cross as a symbol for world peace. Now, as an adult, Green has committed much of the past year to ensuring that the symbol remains in place.
Green, 52, of Annapolis is producing a documentary called “Save the Peace Cross,” and is the sponsor for the World War I memorial’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Green grew up in Prince George’s County and visits Bladensburg regularly as a board member of the Elizabeth Seton High School alumni association.
The documentary is a direct response to a lawsuit by the American Humanist Association, which argues the Peace Cross is a religious symbol on government land that appears to only honor Christian servicemen.
“A lot of people sit back and they think, ‘That’s a shame,’ but not everyone is actually going to do something,” Green said. “I thought, ‘I can do that. I can make a difference here with my time and my talent.’”
Green interviewed supporters of the Peace Cross and plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She also researched the lives of the 49 men named on the memorial. As she learned more about the Peace Cross, she discovered that it was not in the National Register of Historic Places, which is a list of historic sites in the United States that are worthy of preservation, according to the National Park Service.
Marion Hoffman, a former Bladensburg council member and the current chairwoman of the town’s Patriotic Committee, said she could not think of a more appropriate site for the National Register than the Peace Cross.
“It’s just a way of remembering those who gave us our freedom, who continue to keep us free,” Hoffman said. “What could be more historic than that?”
With assistance from the Maryland Historic Trust and the county’s Historic Preservation Commission, Green completed the National Registry paperwork for the Peace Cross. She said the memorial’s age, integrity and significance meet all of the registry’s qualifications — the Peace Cross is more than 50 years old, it looks fairly the same as it did when it was erected, it is associated with a historic event and it is significant to architectural history, as it was designed by craftsman John J. Earley, who developed a process for producing exposed aggregate concrete.
“If it had been in there before, you can’t have it removed. You can’t have it destroyed,” Green said. “I don’t think this lawsuit would have gone anywhere.”
One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Fred Edwords, 66, of Greenbelt said the only concern in court is the location of the “40-foot Christian cross,” as it is an unconstitutional use of a religious symbol on public land.
“There are parks around, churches around, where it could be moved,” Edwords said. “If it were moved to an area that was not taxpayer supported and not implying government endorsement, that would be fine.”
Green said she hopes the registry nomination and the documentary, which will be available to purchase online in mid-May, will bring awareness to the lawsuit and be a “game changer” for the preservation of the memorial.
“In order for people to really make a decision, they had to know the history. They have to understand it,” Green said. “It’s a World War I memorial dedicated to 49 men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It represents peace.”
The Historic Preservation Commission will decide if it will recommend the Peace Cross to the National Register during the April 21 meeting. The recommendation would then move to the local and state government for approval.