House Votes to Remove Confederacy Statues From the US Capitol

A marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney is displayed in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol on Monday. Taney, who came from a wealthy, slave-owning family in Calvert County, Maryland, led the Supreme Court in the 1857 ruling against Dred Scott, a slave who had sued for his freedom. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A bipartisan House voted to remove statues of historical figures who served the Confederacy from the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, giving the building’s architect $2 million and four months to complete the job.

The bill, which passed the House by a 305-113 vote, mainly targets 12 statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall memorializing Confederate leaders, along with a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney — author of the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which declared that free or enslaved Black people were not American citizens.

That statue is displayed in the former Supreme Court chamber inside the Capitol, immortalizing a decision which declared African Americans, “so far inferior, they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Statuary Hall is home to depictions of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the former president and vice president of the Confederacy.

“While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the United States Capitol does not relieve the Congress of the historical wrongs it committed to protect the institution of slavery, it expresses Congress’s recognition of one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms, that of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision,” the bill states.

The bill appropriates a total of $5 million for the job, giving the remaining $3 million to the Smithsonian Institute in order to procure a bust of Thurgood Marshall — the first Black Supreme Court justice, and an essential voice in decisions involving civil rights. That monument will replace Taney’s in the chamber.

The legislation also directs the Capitol architect to remove statues of Charles Brantley Aycock, James Paul Clarke and former Vice President John Caldwell Calhoun — who’s last attributed words were, “The South, the poor South!”

The House voted to remove statues such as this one of Jefferson Davis in Statuary Hall. (Courthouse News Service photo/Jack Rodgers)

Each statesman cast in bronze has strong ties to the Confederacy, with Aycock leading white supremacy campaigns in the late 1800s and Clarke proclaiming his devotion to uphold white supremacy while in office. Those busts will be removed within 30 days.

Statues will be sent back to individual state governments that provided them, and directs the management of their storage to the Capitol architect. Consideration for the display or storage of other busts will be undertaken by the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, along with the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library.

The passage of Wednesday’s bill further expels Confederate symbols from the U.S. Capitol. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, directed House Clerk Cheryl Johnson to remove several portraits of Confederate leaders a day before Juneteenth —  a celebration of June 19, 1865, the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, arrived in Texas.

From the House floor Wednesday, Pelosi said the action to remove the statues and Confederate symbols would help weaken the grip of racial injustice that has clung to Americans since the murder of George Floyd. While the House had moved to radically change policing in the country through a bill named after Floyd, it was important to maintain focus to address systemic racism.

“Now in Congress and in the country, we must maintain a drum beat to ensure this moment of anguish continues to be transformed into action,” she said.

Jim Clyburn, the House’s majority whip and South Carolina Democrat, said members needed to discern between which statues should be placed in museums and which should be lauded in the halls of Congress. That, he said, was putting history in its proper place.

“And for those who did not do what I think they should have done, they’ve got a place in the history books,” Clyburn said. “But it’s not to be honored and it’s not to be glorified. It ought to be put in the proper perspective.”

While only a few spoke Wednesday, Republican members appeared to be unified with their Democratic counterparts in removing symbols of the Confederacy from the building. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, agreed that Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford was possibly the worst in Supreme Court history. However, if Congress removed memorials to every person who made a bad decision, “this would be a very barren place,” he said.

“It’s only the bad things in our history that we can use to measure all the good things in our history,” he said.

Americans are losing sentiment towards other Confederate symbols, like the failed rebellion’s battle flag, according to a poll released by Morning Consult. According to that survey of registered voters, 39% say the flag represents a history embroiled in racism, while 43% say the symbol represents Southern pride.

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