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On Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives passed legislation by a bipartisan vote of 305-113 to remove Confederate statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol.
Seventy-two Republicans voted for the legislation with the Democrats. The 113 Representatives who voted against the legislation were all Republicans.
The bill requires the removal of statues of those who voluntarily served the Confederate States during the American Civil War with the aim of preserving slavery.
Steny Hoyer, House majority leader and Democratic representative of Maryland, introduced the bill.
“Defenders and purveyors of sedition, slavery, segregation and white supremacy have no place in this temple of liberty,” he said of the statues at a news conference on Wednesday.
Democrats have considered the prospect of removing Confederate statues from the Capitol before without the issue being debated on the House floor.
However, the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white former police officer, led to calls being reignited for the removal of Confederate statues, this time with greater intensity and backed by strong public opinion.
Following Floyd’s murder, nationwide protests against systemic racism have seen the toppling of many statues associated with America’s legacy of slavery and segregation.
“These painful symbols of bigotry and racism — they have no place in our society, and certainly should not be enshrined in the United States Capitol,” said Democratic Representative of California and co-sponsor of the bill Barbara Lee.
“It’s past time that we end the glorification of men who committed treason against the United States in a concerted effort to keep African Americans in chains.”
The bill specifically calls for the removal of the statues of five men, one of which is a bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney.
Taney gave the majority Supreme Court ruling in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case where slaves were deemed not to be American citizens and thus unable to bring a lawsuit to the court.
The bill calls for his statue to be replaced with that of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice.
The other statues include two former US vice presidents, John Calhoun and John Breckinridge, former North Carolina governor, Charles Brantley Aycock, and former senator and governor of Arkansas James Paul Clarke, all of whom defended and fought for slavery and segregation in America.
The states are responsible for sending two statues each to the National Statuary Collection in the Capitol. The members of Congress cannot replace those statues as only the states have this authority under Federal law.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the decision to remove the statues should be left with the states only. He also called the House legislation “clearly a bridge too far”, adding that it was an attempt to “airbrush the Capitol.”
It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass in the Senate.
“Imagine what it feels like as an African American to know that my ancestors built the Capitol, but yet there are monuments to the very people that enslaved my ancestors,” Karen Bass, the Democratic representative of California and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus said.
“Statues are not just historical markers but are tributes, a way to honor an individual. These individuals do not deserve to be honored.”
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