Black lawmakers say Confederate statues should come out of Capitol

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are reviving calls to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol following the violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. 

The “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists and the subsequent clashes with counterprotesters began as a protest against the Charlottesville city council’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

Since the rally, other localities have moved to take down Confederate statues — and some lawmakers think the Capitol should consider following suit. 

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“We will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States in order to keep African-Americans in chains. By the way, thank god, they lost,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) told ABC News.

However, a CBC aide told The Hill that the group is not currently working on any legislative efforts, like resolutions or letters, on Confederate statues in the Capitol.  

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the sole African-American member of the Mississippi delegation, had demanded his state flag not be displayed due to its inclusion of the Confederate battle flag.

Asked about the remaining statues in the Capitol, Thompson this week reiterated that Confederate imagery should be removed from the complex.

“Confederate memorabilia have no place in this country and especially not in the United States Capitol. These images symbolize a time of racial discrimination and segregation that continues to haunt this country and many African-Americans who still to this day face racism and bigotry,” Thompson said in a statement to The Hill.

“It is past time for action to remove all Confederate symbols in the U.S. Capitol and on the Mississippi state flag.” 

President Trump, meanwhile, pushed back against the initiatives to remove Confederate memorials during a press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday. 

“This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Trump said.

Black Caucus members have urged the statues' removal before without success, such as after the racially motivated shooting in 2015 at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine people. 

At least nine statues honoring former Confederate leaders and military officers are featured in the Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Each state contributes two statues commemorating noteworthy citizens, which are placed in the former House chamber now known as National Statuary Hall, as well as the Rotunda, the room beneath the Rotunda known as the Crypt, the Capitol Visitor Center and the Hall of Columns. 

Statuary Hall, which is just steps from the current House chamber, is home to depictions of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; Alexander Hamilton Stephens, its vice president; and Zebulon Vance and Joseph Wheeler, who were both former Confederate military officers and members of Congress. 

Statues of John C. Calhoun, the former vice president and slavery proponent, and Lee — not unlike the one in Charlottesville — are displayed a floor below in the Capitol Crypt.

Tourists can also find Confederate statues in the Capitol Visitor Center, including military officers like Wade Hampton, James George and Edmund Kirby Smith. 

Only states have the power to replace statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection. A statue can be replaced if the state legislature and governor approve a resolution to do so and if it has been displayed in the Capitol for at least a decade. (States can still seek a waiver if a statue has been present for less time.)

The Florida legislature enacted a law last year calling for Smith’s removal from the Capitol, but lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on a replacement statue yet.

Proponents of removing Confederate imagery from the Capitol complex have had some success in recent years. In the months after the Charleston shooting, the GOP-controlled House Administration Committee removed state flags from an underground subway tunnel and replaced them with commemorative coins.  

Another Black Caucus member, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), suggested it’s better to include statues of figures from other chapters of U.S. history alongside depictions of the Confederacy.  

“Congressman Johnson believes we should revise and supplement history with statues of other Americans who have contributed to our collective experience and story. The goal should be revision and inclusion as opposed to the obliteration of the nation’s history,” Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan said.

Beyond the Capitol, Black Caucus members have been pushing to do away with Confederate memorials in their home states. 

The CBC recently filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of a lawsuit filed by an African-American lawyer against the governor of Mississippi claiming that the state flag sends a message of denying equal treatment under the law by including the Confederate emblem.

New York Democratic Reps. Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries joined two other non-CBC lawmakers in urging the Army to rename streets at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn honoring two Confederate generals. The Army rejected the request earlier this month.

And Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) in his district called for a Confederate monument to be removed from Forest Park in St. Louis. The memorial was removed earlier this summer. 

Clay was at the center of a controversy in January when GOP lawmakers objected to a high school-aged constituent’s painting that depicted police officers as animals. The painting was meant to examine the historically fraught relations between police and African-Americans.

At the time, Clay countered that he found the Confederate statues in the Capitol “deeply offensive.”

Several communities across the nation had already been in the process of removing Confederate imagery before the Charlottesville violence, such as statues in New Orleans and the renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway and J.E.B. Stuart High School in the Northern Virginia suburbs neighboring Washington. 

Efforts to take down Confederate symbols have multiplied in the days since the protests in Charlottesville, where a man who drove from Ohio to attend the white supremacist rally allegedly rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in an attack that killed one woman and injured 19 others. 

Officials in cities ranging from Lexington, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn., to Baltimore moved to advance plans to take down Confederate monuments. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, said he thinks a statue of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from the state Capitol. 

Another GOP governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, endorsed the removal of a statue from the state House grounds depicting the Supreme Court chief justice who authored the Dred Scott opinion, Roger B. Taney.

Protesters in Durham, N.C., took matters into their own hands on Monday by pulling down a Confederate statue. 

Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBlack lawmakers give tech sector low marks amid Silicon Valley trip Week ahead in tech: Black Caucus takes diversity push to Silicon Valley Overnight Tech: Black lawmakers press Sandberg on diversity at Facebook | Dems want hearing on Trump tweets about media | Watchdog to probe alleged FCC cyberattack MORE (D-N.C.), a former CBC chairman, expressed sympathy for “the pain that people of good will are experiencing when terror is heaped upon them or their fellow citizens.” 

"I don't condone the destruction of government property, but I understand the hurt and pain the continued existence of confederate monuments cause to many in our communities, whether it is on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, state capitals, or any other locations,” Butterfield said in a statement.