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The House of Representatives Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation to remove confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol, arguing that the memorials to white men who sought to keep African Americans enslaved should no longer be lauded in the halls of Congress.
The vote was 305-113. Seventy-two Republicans and one Libertarian, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, joined with all Democrats in passing the legislation.
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday talked personally about the painful history of slavery and oppression in the United States, which has been on the national conscience since George Floyd’s death sparked global protests for racial justice.
“Just 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 Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. “…These individuals do not deserve to be honored.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the vote can begin a healing process for those who have endured so much hardship and discrimination.
“It is fitting and proper that those individuals who fought to keep many of our ancestors enslaved should not have to be recognized in a place where people who do good expect to be recognized,” Thompson said. “This is not a way of erasing history. It is a way of correcting history.”
The measure now heads to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has previously rejected efforts to “airbrush the Capitol” and believes the decision on statues should be left up to the states, which get to send two statues each to display at the Capitol.
Taking a more aggressive approach, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, already removed on Juneteenth the four portraits of past House Speakers who served the confederacy and said this legislation would target 12 statues of Confederate officials and four other statues honoring persons who similarly exemplified “bigotry and hate.”
“How can we seek to end the scourge of racism in America we allow the worst perpetrators of that racism to be lauded in the halls of Congress,” Pelosi said on the House floor.
Democrats backing the legislation said the effort is long overdue and should be no substitute for more substantial legislation to tackle systemic racism and police brutality that protesters nationwide are demanding.
Critics who have panned rioters nationwide toppling and destroying statues backed his more orderly approach for removing symbols of the Confederacy.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. said Republicans and Democrats Wednesday are sending a strong message on American values.
“The statues in the U.S. Capitol represent to visitors throughout the world what we stand for as a nation,” Davis said.
FILE – In this June 24, 2015 file photo, a statue of Jefferson Davis, second from left, president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, is on display in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House voted July 22, 2020, to remove statues of Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis from the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
The legislation would remove all statues of individuals “who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol.” Among the statues expected to be targeted are Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the former president and vice president of the Confederate states who were charged with treason against the United States.
The legislation would also replace the bust of Roger Brooke Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the Capitol with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 became the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.
Taney, a Maryland native and justice from 1836 to 1864, wrote the Dred Scott decision that found Black people were not American citizens.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said Taney’s Dred Scott decision was the “worst decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court.” Yet, McClintock still opposed legislation to remove his statue and others, fearing that soon statues will be swapped out like “trading cards.”
“If we remove memorials to every person in this building who ever made a bad decision — and his was the worst — well, this would be a very barren place indeed…Our nation’s history should be made of sterner stuff,” McClintock said.
The bill specifically calls for the removal of monuments of Taney, Charles B. Aycock, a former North Carolina governor and white supremacist; John C. Calhoun, the former pro-slavery vice president; John C. Breckinridge, a former vice president who became the Secretary of War for the Confederacy; and James Paul Clarke, the former governor of Arkansas who held racist views.
If passed by the Senate, the legislation would direct the Architect of the Capitol to identify and remove other statues of individuals who served as an officer or volunteer in the confederacy and deliver those statues to the Smithsonian Institution.