WASHINGTON –The U.S. Capitol features 12 statues that honor Confederate military and political leaders, sent there by the Southern states they called home. But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Republicans need to join Democratic efforts to remove the symbols of “violent bigotry.”
As protests around the country ignite over the prominent position of Confederate statues at historic sites, universities and town squares, many Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., think the monuments should go.
“Confederate memorabilia have no place in this country and especially not in the United States Capitol,” Thompson said in a statement. “These images symbolize a time of racial discrimination and segregation that continues to haunt this country and many African-Americans who still to this day face racism and bigotry.”
Booker announced via twitter Thursday that he will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol because he believes they do harm to America’s collective humanity.
“The Confederate statues. . . are, unequivocally, not only statues of treasonous Americans, but are symbolic to some who seek to revise history and advance hate and division,” Booker said in a statement. “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.”
A rule, established in 1864, allows states to place two statues each in the Capitol to honor those “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” The criteria used to determine which figures are worthy of this honor, and what exactly it means to be “illustrious for historic renown” is generally in the eyes of the beholder, said former Historian of the Senate Don Ritchie.
“It is ultimately a reflection of the opinion of the states themselves . . .,” Ritchie said. “They take these issues seriously, but there are no real criteria. . . They attempt to answer who does the state think represents them the best?”
States determine the figures, then send the names to the Architect of the Capitol, who formally approves the statues.
“The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible,” Pelosi said in a statement. “If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker (Paul) Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately.”
Ryan has not responded publicly to Pelosi or questions about removing the statues.
Of the confederate statues in the Capitol, two stand out because as they honor the leaders of the Confederacy, both of whom have espoused racist beliefs: Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens. The statues are in the historic Statuary Hall.
Stephens, in his famous “Cornerstone Speech” prior to the Civil War in 1861, announced that the new Confederate government was “justifiably founded on the idea that blacks were inferior to whites.”
Davis extolled similarly racist views in his 1861 justification of slavery, writing that the idea that all men are created equal is a “theory.”