Capitol Statue Demographics, Recent Events Suggest Necessary Addition, Removal of Certain Statues
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Each year, the United States Capitol Building receives around 3 to 5 million visitors. As the meeting place of the U.S. Congress, people from all over the country visit this landmark in the heart of Washington D.C. to view its innovative architectural design, recognize the history it represents, and visit the collection of statues it holds.
Inside the Capitol Building, you can find the National Statuary Hall Collection which comprises 100 statues. Each of the fifty U.S. states contributed two statues of individuals who were significant to the state’s history, a concept that originated in the mid 19th century. In light of recent events, people have started questioning the validity of certain statues in the hall. However, others still believe that these statutes should be kept now, more than ever.
Individuals Encourage the Removal of Confederate Statues After Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement
The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes in late May, sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged the removal of Confederate monuments nationwide. Specifically, the Capitol building has garnered attention during this movement because it is home to eleven confederate statues from various states. Among the eleven statues are those of Jefferson Davis (Mississippi), Robert E. Lee (Virginia), Uriah Milton Rose (Arkansas), and Joseph Wheeler (Alabama).
In early July, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the removal of statues. In a statement ______, she said “[The] statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed,”Pelosi wasn’t the only representative who wanted to take down the statues. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-California) and Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) introduced a bill this July that would send the statues back to the states that they are originally from or provide them to the Smithsonian. The bill passed the House with a 305 to 113 majority,however, it was ultimately blocked in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) who claimed the decision to remove statues should be entirely up to the states.
The GOP has repeatedly said that Congress does not have the power to remove statues without passing a new law. However, many Republican lawmakers, including Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), are against the idea. McConnell, a strong opposer of removing Confederate statues, further explained his stance. “You know, there were eight presidents who owned slaves. Washington did. Jefferson did. Madison did. Monroe did. Look, as far as the statues are concerned, every state gets two. Any state can trade out, as Sen. Blunt pointed out, if they choose to. And some actually are choosing to,” he added.
Lack of Women Statues in Statuary Hall Displays Gap Between Male, Female Honorary Recognition
Currently, less than 10% of statues in the Capitol Building are of women. With only nine women in the Hall, the lack of gender equality shows how underrepresented women are in the hall.
The statue of Helen Keller is one of the more popular ones in the hall. Even though she was deaf, blind, and unable to speak, Keller engaged in various social causes, one of which was women’s suffrage. She traveled the world to support the blind, as well as, called attention to the physically handicapped. Inspired by the movie, The Miracle Worker, the statue shows seven-year-old Keller standing at an Ivy pump, a key part of the movie.
Among the nine women in the hall, Sacagawea is also an important woman honored. Sacagawea was a Native American woman who served as a guide and translator for the Lewis and Clark Expedition and her statue is one of the few statues present in the hall that is of a woman of color. By selecting her as the subject of this statue, the state legislature chose to recognize that “her indomitable spirit was a deciding factor in the success of Lewis and Clark’s expedition.” The statue was in place in the Capitol since the beginning of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
People of Color Barely Recognized in Statuary Hall
There are currently 12 full-length statues of People of Color (POC) in the Statuary Hall. Of the statues of POC, there are six Native Americans, three African Americans, two Hispanics, and one Native Hawaiian.
Kamehameha I is the only Native Hawaiian whose statue is in the Capitol Building. As king of Hawai’i, Kamehameha created a system that placed followers in charge of large districts on the islands. He encouraged trade and peaceful activities and presided over the opening of Hawai’i to the rest of the world.
In February 2013, a statue of Rosa Parks was placed as the first-ever full-length statue of an African American in the Capitol. The Statue was not state-designated and was endorsed by Congress itself and it wasn’t until 2018, that a state-designated African-American Statue was placed in the hall. In March 2018, the governor of Florida signed legislation to replace a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith with African-American educator and civil-rights activist, Mary McLeod Bethune.
Today, 78% of statues in the U.S. Capitol buildings represent white males. This statistic disproportionally represents sex and ethnicity in this country’s current population. Individuals suggest that seeing more women and POC being honored in the Capitol will encourage the passing of legislation that is in favor of these minority groups, allowing a more equalized economy. Politicians, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggest that gender and race equalization are crucial for any lawmaker. In an interview, Cortez said “Issues of race and gender are not extra-credit points in being a good Democrat. They are a core part of the competencies that a President needs,” Cortez told the New Yorker.
On the contrary, multiple politicians have argued that these statues represent men crucial to our history, even if they made “mistakes” such as being associated with slavery.
Through Teen Lenses: Should the Capitol remove confederate statues and replace them with important women and POC in our history? Explain.
“I believe that some of the Confederate statues at the Capitol building should be replaced by POC or women that have had a more profound or positive impact on the US or the world, while other statues should be kept to remind us of the past. While the past may be ugly it will ensure that we learn from the past and that we don’t make the same mistakes that we’ve made from long-ago” Albert Vladamersky, 15, Rising Sophomore at South Lakes High School, Reston, Virginia
“Honestly, I somewhat agree with Mitch McConnell about the confederate statues. No matter what mistakes people in our history make, they are still important to our history and important to what our ideals are built upon. Even though I completely don’t support confederate ideals, I think it’s important for us to remember the ideals of certain people in our country whose ideas are still used today. Plus, I feel like you cannot force any state to do anything. The American ideal is that states have free and separate governments in relation to the national government, and that should be implied to something even as small as statues.” Anonymous, 18, Rising Freshmen at Rutgers University, Lorton, Virginia
“I don’t think that statues of all those allied with the confederates should be taken down, but I 100% support building statues of influential women who have made a powerful impact on our country. All those who have influenced our country deserve to be remembered and honored” Archi Patel, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ashburn, Virginia