In a bipartisan vote of 305 to 113 yesterday, July 22, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol building in Washington, DC. All Democrats, 72 Republicans, and one independent voted in its favor.
Each state contributes two sculptures of historical figures to the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall; according to Politico, there are 12 Confederate statues in the collection. The new legislation orders the removal of any monuments to “individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America” and cites five specific statues in Statuary Hall: that of former vice president and defender of slavery John C. Calhoun; John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who served as the Confederate secretary of war; former governor Charles Brantley Aycock, one of the perpetrators of the bloody Wilmington Massacre; James Paul Clarke, an Arkansas senator and governor who was a white supremacist; and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who ruled that enslaved people were not American citizens in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case. The bust of the latter would be replaced by a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice.
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, had already signed legislation last year to replace both of the state’s statues with ones of civil rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates and country singer Johnny Cash.
Spearheaded by Maryland Democrat Steny H. Hoyer, the bill comes as the nation continues to reckon with its legacy of racial oppression. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other Black individuals at the hands of vigilantes and police, demonstrators are advocating for the dismantlement of Confederate monuments and other hate symbols that glorify anti-Black violence. Last month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the portraits of four speakers who served in the Confederacy removed from the hall outside the House chamber.
“Imagine what it feels like as an African American to know that my ancestors built the Capitol, but yet there are monuments to the very people that enslaved my ancestors,” said Representative Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Statues are not just historical markers but are tributes, a way to honor an individual. These individuals do not deserve to be honored.”
The bill must now get past the Republican-majority Senate and signed into law by President Trump. Last month, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called the statues’ removal “nonsense” and an attempt to “airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery.”
Representative and majority whip James E. Clyburn suggested on Wednesday that the statues removed from the Capitol should be housed in a museum.
“I’m not for destroying any statue,” he said in a tweet. “Put them where they can be studied, where people will know exactly who and what they were. But do not honor them and do not glorify them.”