House Speaker Nancy Pelosi renewed a years-long quest to remove the remaining Confederate statues from the US Capitol as calls to erase monuments to the Confederacy increase amid the nation’s reckoning with its racist past. Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter on June 10 to her colleagues who co-chair the Joint Committee on the Library that Congress should “lead by example.” “The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,” Pelosi wrote. “Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed.” Pelosi, then the House Minority Leader, led this charge in 2017 after the violent white supremacist marches in Charlottesville that began over plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. But Republicans rejected her entreaty, saying it is up to the states to decide the likenesses they want representing them in Washington.
Each state is allowed to choose two statues to decorate the halls of Congress. There are, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s letter, 11 Confederate statutes, including Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America, respectively. Some states have taken it upon themselves to remove statues honoring those who sided with the Confederacy. In 2019, Arkansas replaced two figures from the Civil War with statues of music legend Johnny Cash and civil rights icon Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, though at the time Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said the reason for the swap was to have a more modern representation of the state. Now, the debate over whether to remove Confederate monuments from public and private spaces has raged anew in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, which spawned a national reckoning over the history of racism in the US.
Unlike other attempts to remove Confederate monuments, a societal awareness around issues of systemic racism could lead to more action. This week, institutions including NASCAR and the US Marine Corps banned the use of the Confederate symbols, and there’s increasing pressure to rename military bases that are named for Confederate generals. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the vice chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Library, said in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s letter that the Confederate statues displayed around the US Capitol should be replaced. “I agree that the Joint Committee and Architect of the Capitol should expediently remove these symbols of cruelty and bigotry from the halls of the Capitol,” Lofgren said. “I stand ready, and call on the Chair of the Joint Committee to swiftly approve the removal of these statues. The Capitol building belongs to the American people and cannot serve as a place of honor for the hatred and racism that tears at the fabric of our nation, the very poison that these statues embody.”