WASHINGTON – As government and industry leaders across the country are moving away from associations with the Confederacy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of 11 Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol Building.
"The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who lead the Joint Committee on the Library that oversees the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump said he would not consider renaming military bases that are currently named after Confederate generals, in a split from Pentagon leaders who said earlier his week they would be open to discussing the idea.
"Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!" Trump tweeted.
Statues in the Statuary Hall collection of the Capitol are gifted by the 50 states, a process that usually begins with a resolution in that state putting forth an individual and their qualifications for being honored. The process for replacing a statue also includes a resolution in the legislature of the state. A state's request to replace a statue can be approved or denied by the Joint Committee on the Library.
Statues in the collection are of deceased individuals "illustrious for historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services," according to the Architect of the Capitol guidelines.
Pelosi named the statues of President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis and Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens as among the 11 statues she wants removed. She noted portions of Stephens' 1861 "Cornerstone Speech," in which he outlined reasons for seceding from the union. He said ideals of the U.S. based in racial equality were an "error" and defended the institution of slavery.
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone 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," Pelosi quoted from Stephens' speech in the letter.
It's not the first time Pelosi has asked for the statues in the Capitol Statuary Hall collection to be removed; in 2017, she called on then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to do the same after the "Unite the Right" rally that ended in violence and tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"While I believe it is imperative that we never forget our history lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country," Pelosi said in her letter Wednesday.
Lofgren said in a statement she agrees with Pelosi's request: "Indeed, what the Confederate statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection represent is anathema to who we are as a Congress and a country.
"I agree that the Joint Committee and Architect of the Capitol should expediently remove these symbols of cruelty and bigotry from the halls of the Capitol. I stand ready, and call on the Chair of the Joint Committee to swiftly approve the removal of these statues. The Capitol building belongs to the American people and cannot serve as a place of honor for the hatred and racism that tears at the fabric of our nation, the very poison that these statues embody.”
Renewed calls to remove memorials of Confederate figures come as the nation sees massive protests against racial inequality and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer as he cried he could not breathe. In some places, officials have announced plans to remove memorials.
The Marine Corps last week banned the display of the Confederate battle flag, a move followed on Tuesday by the Navy. Also on Wednesday, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at events and on its properties.