The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to remove statues of white supremacists and Confederate leaders who advocated for slavery from the US Capitol.
The vote passed 285 to 120 with every Democrat present and 67 Republicans voting in favor of the legislation, which directs the removal of “all statues of individuals who voluntarily served in the Confederate States of America or of the military forces or government of a State while the State was in rebellion against the United States”.
Representative Hank Johnson
, a Democrat from Georgia, said that honoring these men sent a message in the US Capitol that Black people’s lives are not valued.
“It’s personally an affront to me as a Black man to walk around and look at these figures and see them standing tall, looking out as if they were visionaries and they did something that was great. No, they did something that was very hurtful to humanity,” Johnson
The legislation specifically calls for the removal of statues of three men who supported slavery and segregation: the North Carolina governor Charles Aycock, Vice-President John Calhoun and the Arkansas senator James Clarke.
It also orders the replacement of a bust of Roger Taney, who owned enslaved people and wrote the 1857 supreme court decision that denied enslaved people citizenship. The bust would be replaced with one of Thurgood Marshall, who became the first Black supreme court justice in 1967 and who previously won a landmark supreme court case which said school segregation was unconstitutional, Brown v Board of Education.
Some Republicans in the debate highlighted that Democrats represented the south during the civil war. The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, said he supported the bill but emphasized “all the statues being removed by this bill are statues of Democrats.”
A similar bill passed the House last year but the then Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, declined to bring the measure to a vote. It is more likely to be introduced to the Senate now that Democrats have a slight majority. For the legislation to succeed, 10 Republican senators would have to vote in favor of it with every Democrat because of the filibuster rule.
The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, reintroduced the legislation in May and said: “It’s never too late to do the right thing, and this legislation would work to right a historic wrong while ensuring our Capitol reflects the principles and ideals of what Americans stand for.”
The majority of Confederate memorials were put up decades after the civil war, according to a database created by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The period which saw the biggest spike in the creation of these statues was in the 1900s, when southern states enacted Jim Crow laws that limited the rights of Black people after a period of integration.
The push to remove Confederate symbols from public places has been going on for decades and ramped up last year during civil rights protests. In 2020, at least 160 Confederate symbols were taken down or removed from public spaces, according to the SPLC database.