The US Capitol's National Statuary Hall (courtesy US Capitol, via Wikimedia Commons)

The US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall (courtesy US Capitol/Wikimedia Commons)

Cory Booker, a Democratic Senator from New Jersey, plans to introduce a bill calling for the removal of all Confederate statues from the US Capitol building in Washington, DC.

“I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building,” he tweeted Wednesday evening. “This is just one step. We have much work to do.” The announcement came the day after President Trump publicly bemoaned the removal of Confederate monuments.

Edward V. Valentine’s Statue of Robert E. Lee in its former location at National Statuary Hall (photo by Ken Lund/Flickr)

Many of the Confederate statues on Capitol Hill are located in the National Statuary Hall, a chamber housing sculptures of important citizens donated by each state. Among the Confederate figures currently commemorated there are Jefferson Davis, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Joseph Wheeler, James Z. George, and Edmund Kirby Smith, among others. A statue of Robert E. Lee was relocated from there to the the Capitol’s crypt in 2013.

“There is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country,” Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and a Congresswoman for California, said in a statement. “The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible. If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Senator from New York, also voiced his support for the measure, stating in a Facebook post that “it is critical that we work towards the goal of Senator Cory Booker’s legislation, which is to replace Confederate statues in the US Capitol building.” On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that sculptural busts of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson would be removed from the Hall of Great Americans on the Bronx Community College campus of the City University of New York.

There have been efforts in recent years to diversify the array in National Statuary Hall, for instance with the 2013 addition of a statue of Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks — which took the place of Edward V. Valentine’s bronze of Robert E. Lee, donated by Virginia in 1934. The deadly white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia — spurred by the planned removal of the city’s Robert E. Lee monument — have revived a long-running debate about removing and re-contextualizing Confederate monuments, including those in National Statuary Hall.

Senator Booker’s legislation, which will call for the outright removal rather than the recontextualization of the US Capitol’s Confederate statues, won’t be introduced until after Labor Day, when the Senate returns from its summer recess. As The Hill notes, when it is, the bill will need 60 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate in order to pass.

“The Capitol is a place for all Americans to come and feel welcomed, encouraged, and inspired,” Booker wrote in a statement, which continues:

Confederate statues do not do this. They do the opposite. They are, unequivocally, not only statues of treasonous, unpatriotic Americans, they are also symbolic to some who seek to revise history and advance hate and division. To millions of Americans, they are painful, injurious symbols of bigotry and hate, celebrating individuals who sought to break our nation asunder and preserve the vile institution of slavery and white supremacy.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...