It's Up to McCarthy to Remove Statues of Slavers from the CapitolBreaking News
tags: slavery, memorials, statues, monuments, public history, Lost Cause, capitol
Portraiture celebrating men who owned people has gazed down upon visitors to the U.S. Capitol for generations. But interestingly and tellingly, the slaver portraits had never been cataloged until December, when Washington Post history reporter Gillian Brockell found that one-third of the artwork in the Capitol depicts slavers or Confederates. That’s 141 slavers depicted in the Capitol’s oil paintings, marble busts, and statues of bronze and stone.
“If you’re Black or you’re brown or otherwise marginalized, it’s one of the first things you notice,” said Congresswoman Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, a new member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Jamaal Bowman agrees. “As a Black man at the Capitol, especially when I was a freshman, I always felt that I’m walking into the physical infrastructure of white supremacy,” said the New York Democrat and fellow CBC member.
“I also feel now obviously, in my second term, that my voice is incredibly important in changing that,” said Bowman.
“It could be updated,” agrees Shontel Brown, an Ohio Democrat also in her second term. Adds Emilia Sykes, another first-term CBC member from Ohio: “To come to the United States Congress and sit in the committee room, as I did today, and only see white men on the wall is a constant reminder of how much further we have to go to ensure that everyone feels like they belong in places of authority and in rooms of power.”
As House speaker, Kevin McCarthy has broad unilateral authority over the artworks that get displayed in the Capitol complex. In June 2021, then–Minority Leader McCarthy joined 59 of his GOP colleagues to pass a resolution to replace a slaver bust with an artwork of Thurgood Marshall. The New Republic asked McCarthy on Thursday if he would continue working with Democrats as speaker to modernize the Capitol’s artworks.
“I remember when the Democrats brought up the removing of a couple statues,” said the California Republican. “I thought they should’ve gone further.… I think they should change the name of their own party.” McCarthy pointed out that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and that Democrats were once the party of slavers. “There’s not one Republican that you have to take down,” he said of the Capitol artworks depicting Confederates.