Speaker Pelosi Calls for Purge of Confederate Statues From Capitol’s Statuary Hall, But Lacks the Power to Remove Them
Should states remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall?
by Causes | 6.11.20
What’s the story?
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday sent a letter to the Joint Committee on the library, calling for the removal of 11 statues representing Confederate soldiers & officials from the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection:
“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed… To this end, I request the Library to direct the Architect of the Capitol to immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display in the United States Capitol.”
- The Joint Committee on the Library’s vice chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), agreed with Pelosi’s statement. But neither Lofrgren nor the speaker acknowledged in their statements that Congress by law gave each state the sole discretion to choose two statues for display in the Capitol, and that by law the statues can only be removed at the request of states.
- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Joint Committee on the Library, released a statement that explained:
“Under the law, each state decides which two statues it will send to the Capitol. Several states have moved toward replacing statues and others appear headed in the same direction. This process is ongoing and encouraging. As Speaker Pelosi is undoubtedly aware, the law does not permit the Architect of the Capitol or the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library to remove a statue from the Capitol once it has been received.”
- Indeed, the Congressional Research Service notes that since the Statuary Hall Collection was created by an 1864 law and a 2000 amendment that allowed replacements, statues can only be replaced pursuant to a resolution adopted by the state legislature and signed by the governor.
Which statues is Pelosi calling for the removal of?
- While her letter doesn’t list all of the 11 statues she believes should be removed, she does call for removal of the statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis of Mississippi & Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, both of whom were charged with treason.
- The collection also includes statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee of Virginia, Joseph Wheeler of Alabama (who later served as general in the U.S. Army), and Wade Hampton III of South Carolina; Confederate Colonels James Z. George of Mississippi & Zebulon Vance of North Carolina; plus Confederate soldiers John Kenna of West Virginia, and Edward Douglass White of Louisiana (who later served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court).
- As Blunt’s statement alluded to, some of the controversial statues are slated for replacement. That includes the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith of Florida, who will be replaced by African-American educator & civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune; and the statue of Uriah Rose of Arkansas, a lawyer & county chancellor who sided with the Confederacy and whose statue is scheduled for replacement with a statue of Johnny Cash.
- These replacements continue a trend over the last decade, as in 2009 Alabama replaced its statue of Confederate Army officer & politician Jabez Curry with a statue of Helen Keller.
Other Controversial Statues
- Because Pelosi’s letter only specified the removal of statues associated with Confederate figures, it failed to address her stance on the future of several other statues of historical figures who held racist views and have controversial legacies, including:
- John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who served as a U.S. senator & vice president and was a strong defender of slavery.
- James Paul Clarke of Arkansas, a Democratic governor & U.S. senator who advocated for white supremacy. (Arkansas is replacing his statue with one of Daisy Bates, who was one of the Little Rock Nine.)
- Charles Aycock of North Carolina, a Democratic governor who advocated for white supremacy campaigns during the Jim Crow era that disenfranchised blacks. (North Carolina has voted to replace his statue with one of the Reverend Billy Graham.)
- Pat McCarran of Nevada, a long serving Democratic senator who held openly racist & anti-Semitic views.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: U.S. Capitol via Flickr / Public Domain)
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