House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Thursday that she’d remove the paintings of four former House speakers from display in the Capitol for joining the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
The paintings will come down on Friday — Juneteenth — in a symbolic cleansing of those who fought for slavery and against the United States from the House.
The four men who will no longer be honored in Congress all held deeply racist views and fought to oppress Black people both before and after the Civil War. They’re joined by another dozen former Confederate figures who still have statues in Congress that Pelosi is fighting to remove from display.
Senate Republicans would have to agree, however, and so far have refused to do so, blocking an effort on the floor Thursday to pass a bill to remove the statues by unanimous consent. The states themselves pick the statues, with each state getting two in the Capitol — most of them sent by southern states during the early 20th century, after the states had effectively rolled back civil rights for Black people in their states. While some southern states have moved in recent years to replace racist figures with others from their histories, a number of others have thus far refused to do so.
“Tomorrow, Juneteenth, the [House] Clerk will oversee the removal of those Confederate speakers from the House,” Pelosi said Thursday. “There’s no room in the hallowed halls of democracy, this temple of democracy, to memorialize people who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy. You have to see the remarks they had made, how oblivious they were to what our founders had in mind in our country.”
Pelosi isn’t pushing to remove every statue of a racist from Congress, only the ones who joined the Confederacy. A Pelosi spokesman says she’s following the model set forth by Reps. Barbara Lee D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompsn (D-Miss.), two leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus who have introduced a bill to remove the statues from the Capitol. But that’s left some major racists — and has inadvertently included a few figures who are best remembered for roles outside of the Confederacy.
Democrats are focusing on the clean definition of traitorous Confederates to counter concerns from Republicans about whitewashing history and attempts to lump in people who have statues in the Capitol precisely because of their allegiance to racism along with revered figures who also owned slaves, like founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Here’s a rundown of the four White Supremacists Pelosi and House Democrats will remove on Friday, the dozen who they’re fighting to get out of the Capitol, and the others who they’re letting stand for now.
Who’s Being Removed
Cobb (R-Ga.) served as speaker before the Civil War, and ardently fought to extend slavery into new territories. He then was a leading advocate of Confederate secession, serving as president of the convention that established the Confederate constitution.
In a long letter calling for Georgia to secede, he blasted Abraham Lincoln and his “Black Republicans” for daring to oppose slavery criticize slaveholders and warned that the South must fight to keep the evil institution. A sampling:
There is one dogma of this party which has been so solemnly enunciated, both by their national conventions and Mr. Lincoln that it is worth of serious consideration. I allude to the doctrine of negro equality. The stereotyped expression of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are born equal,” has been perverted from its plain and truthful meaning, and made the basis of a political dogma which strikes at the very foundations of the institution of slavery. Mr. Lincoln and his party assert that this doctrine of equality applies to the negro, and necessarily there can exist no such thing as property in our equals.
Hunter was speaker of the House from 1839-1841 and later served as senator, before becoming secretary of state of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In Congress, he led the fight for a number of pro-slavery acts, pushing the U.S. admitting more slave states to the union and passing the Fugitive Slave Act. He was kicked out of the Senate for leading the push for Virginia to secede from the United States.
Crisp fought for the Confederacy as a young man, then went on to become a congressman in 1882, after reconstruction had ended in the South, eventually becoming Speaker of the House. During his speakership, the House repealed many of the civil rights protections that had been passed during reconstruction, and he personally lead the fight to segregate trains.
Orr served as speaker of the House shortly before the war, a Confederate senator during it, and became governor of South Carolina in 1865. Even though the war had already ended, in that election only white men were allowed to vote. He signed into law a discriminatory “black code” that helped recreate a deep level of oppression for black people in the state by recodifying the master-servant relationship barring Black people from skilled professions and creating vagrancy laws that allowed Black people to be jailed essentially at will. He used language that was deeply racist and condescending, describing Black men as having “qualities that stamp him inferior to the white man.”
Even so, he was a moderate on race by the standards of antebellum South Carolina, arguing for some protections of rights for Black people and pushing for his state to accept its defeat — and because of that narrowly defeated Wade Hampton, a much more ardently racist and violent politician in that 1865 election (Hampton’s statue still stands in Congress). Orr was later named ambassador to Russia by President Ulysses S. Grant, no squish on reconstruction, in a move aimed at reconciliation between the North and South.
12 Confederate Statues Still Standing
A dozen other pieces of art prominently featuring Confederate leaders remain in the Capitol, many sent by southern states long after the Civil War to make clear their support for White Supremacy and further the myth of the “Lost Cause.” Here are the statues that remain in the Capitol.
Jefferson Davis (Mississippi)
Davis, the president of the Confederacy, led the charge to secede and had a fondness for saying things like this:
“You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race.”
Alexander Stephens (Georgia)
Stephens was the vice president of the Confederacy, and famously laid out exactly what his side stood for: “its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
Wade Hampton (South Carolina)
A virulent and violent racist even compared to others on this list, Hampton was a Confederate cavalry general who never stopped fighting th war. He helped raise funds for Ku Klux Klan members facing federal investigations. Later, he used violence to suppress Black people and thwart federal efforts to enforce the U.S. constitution en route to becoming governor. A leading figure in the “Redeemer” White Supremacist movement, he was politically aligned with the Red Shirts, a racist paramilitary group that made sure through violence that Black people wouldn’t vote.
Robert E. Lee (Virginia)
Lee, the Confederacy’s top general, was a key part of the “Lost Cause” effort by southerners to rewrite history after the Civil War to whitewash its heavy roots in slavery. As The Atlantic details, he was a particularly cruel slavemaster, and unlike his predecessors was happy to break up slave families to turn more of a profit.
James Z. George (Mississippi)
George signed his state’s secession ordinance in 1861, was a confederate colonel during the Civil War, and went on to serve for decades in the Senate, seeking to relitigate what the South had lost in the war.
In 1890, he was a leader in crafting a new constitution for Mississippi that was expressly drafted to disenfranchise the state’s large Black population, and led the charge to defend its legality in the courts. The constitution was so effective that other southern states used it as a model to disenfranchise Black people in their own states.
Zebulon Vance (North Carolina)
Vance was in the Confederate army and later became North Carolina’s governor during the Civil War. A decade later he returned to office, winning an election marred by violence against Black voters aimed at undoing Reconstruction. During his campaign, he warned his opponents wanted to “degrade the good old Anglo-Saxon race beneath the African race.”
Edward Douglass White (Louisiana)
White was a lieutenant in the Confederate army who went on to become a lawmaker, state supreme court judge and senator by politically warring against the reconstruction government that allowed Black votes. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and later served as chief justice. He joined the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson that enshrined the “separate but equal” doctrine that codified segregation.
Joe Wheeler (Alabama)
Wheeler was a career soldier who served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army before becoming a congressman and eventually rejoining the U.S. Army to fight in the Spanish-American War decades later.
His statue depicts him in his Confederate, not U.S. military uniform.
Uriah M. Rose (Arkansas)
Rose was a prominent lawyer and judge in Confederate Arkansas who fought to keep his state from ratifying a state constitution the Civil Rights amendments that southern states had to accept to rejoin the United States after the war.
Arkansas is already in the process of replacing Rose’s statue, along with racist automate your posting-Civil War governor James Paul Clarke’s, with statues of country icon Johnny Cash and civil rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates.
Edward Kirby Smith (Florida)
Smith was the last Confederate general to surrender during the Civil War. Florida is already in the process of removing his statue and replacing it with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil right pioneer.
Crawford Long (Georgia)
Long was a well-renowned and pioneering surgeon who happened to be a close friend and college roommate of Stephens’. He briefly served in a Confederate militia unit near the end of the war, though he was never called to active duty.
John E. Kenna (West Virginia)
West Virginia became a state because it refused to secede from the U.S. along with the rest of Virginia, and it’s the only non-Confederate state with a statue of a former Confederate in Congress. But Kenna was only 16 when he joined in the Confederate Army, and is best known as a congressman and senator whose legislative focus had little to do with racial issues.
Other racists left standing
The list Democrats are targeting doesn’t encompass every white supremacist with a statue in Congress. South Carolina’s other statue is for Sen. John C. Calhoun (R-S.C.), whose fierce fight to protect slavery presaged the splits that led to southern secession.
Calhoun described slavery as a “positive good,” and argued that “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually” as under slavery.
And some of the statues aren’t from quite as long ago. North Carolina still has a statue to former Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock (D), who ran on a platform of disenfranchising Black voters and supported white terrorism to accomplish that goal, backing organized violence against Blacks in 1898 and 1900.
Cover: A statue of Wade Hampton III, a lieutenant general in the Confederate States Army calvary during the Civil War, U.S. Senator and governor of South Carolina, is on display in inside the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)