The House of Representatives is expected to approve legislation Wednesday to remove statues honoring figures who were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War from the U.S. Capitol. The bill would also replace the bust of Supreme Court Justice Roger Brooke Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision in 1857 denying freedom to an enslaved man, and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall.
"It's time to sweep away the last vestiges of Jim Crow and the dehumanizing of individuals because of the color of their skin that intruded for too long on the sacred spaces of our democracy," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
The move comes a day after the House approved the annual defense bill with a provision that directs the military to rename army bases bearing names of Confederate generals. President Trump has vowed to veto the measure if it comes to his desk, but it gained a veto-proof majority.The Senate is considering a similar version that has bipartisan support.
South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the top ranking African American in the Democratic caucus, argued those saying these individuals should be viewed for their place in history missed their broader symbolism.
"When people say these are symbols of heritage and not hate I say to them: 'hate is a heritage, depending on what side of history you were on.'"
But Clyburn said he disagreed with those who were tearing down statues around the country and instead said they should be preserved to give them proper perspective in museums.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, D-Calif., told reporters her ancestors built the Capitol and these statues represent monuments to the people who enslaved them.
She explained that the protests following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis in police custody, triggered a push for police reform, but said it also prompted an expanded look at American history. She said about Taney and the Confederate figures "their role in history should be remembered, but it should be accurately told."
Bass noted that there was a jail somewhere in the Capitol complex and said "maybe that would be a proper location for these statues."
Clyburn said he expected support from both parties, but the bill could face hurdles in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said it is up to the states to decide which statues they want displayed in the Capitol. Each state is allocated two, and McConnell said recently that some are already making moves to trade out some in favor of new historical figures.
The legislation does not set up a specific timeline for moving most of the statues, but sets up a process for the Joint Committee on Congress and the Library to identify which figures have ties to the confederacy.
It does call for removal of three specific statues 30 days after the bill is enacted-- those of Charles Brantley Aycock, John Caldwell Calhoun, and James Paul Clarke — from areas open to the public in the Capitol.
It allows some period of time for the Architect of the Capitol to store any affected statues and work with the states to make arrangements to have them moved to another location.
It also calls for the removal of Taney's bust within 30 days of the law's passage. It is mounted in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the United States Capitol, and the bill creates a process to obtain a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the high court's first African American justice, and place it there within a minimum of two years.
Hoyer said the Dred Scott decision meant "Black lives did not matter. So, when we assert that yes, they do matter" is that out of a conviction that "the land of the free include all of us."
Following the death of Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis last week, the 80-year-old civil rights icon who was viewed as the conscience of the Congress, lawmakers said the vote to change the way the Capitol honors historical figures was a way of paying tribute to Lewis' legacy for fighting for equality.
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