Mississippi may need to rethink Capitol statues

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) – Mississippians find unity by bragging about the state’s influence on American culture. The state prides itself on being the birthplace of the blues and the home of towering literary figures.

Yet even as the nation reconsiders the public display of Confederate monuments amid a consideration of issues of racial injustice, Mississippi – a state with a 38% black population – still represents itself inside. of the United States Capitol with still life images of Confederates.

Each state can have two figures in the Capitol Statuary Hall collection, and Mississippi has donated bronze statues of Jefferson Davis and James Zachariah George in 1931.

Davis served in the United States House and Senate from Mississippi before becoming President of Confederation. George was a member of the Mississippi Secession Convention in 1861, and he signed the Secession Ordinance which included these words: “Our position is completely identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.”

On June 29, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted 285-120 in favor of legislation “to remove all statues of individuals who have voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol.” The proposal awaits a vote in the Senate.

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson is the only black member of Mississippi’s four-person delegation to the House, and he was the only one of four to vote in favor of squeezing Confederate statues.

Statues “of those who served in Confederation or supported slavery or apartheid should not have a place of honor on the US Capitol – that’s why I voted for #RemoveHate today,” said Thompson wrote that day on Twitter.

Republican Representatives Trent Kelly and Steven Palazzo voted against the legislation. Republican Representative Michael Guest missed the vote because a family member had died and his return to Washington was delayed. However, Kelly said in a statement that he voted against a similar bill last year.

“I would be opposed to the federal government ordering or dictating that Mississippi remove these statues,” Guest said in the statement.

Even among the states that attempted to separate from the Union, Mississippi is the only one to have two Confederate figures in the Statuary Hall collection.

One of the Alabama statues is from a Confederate cavalry leader, “Fighting Joe” Wheeler. The other is Helen Keller, and the base of the statue includes a Braille inscription.

One of the statues of Louisiana is of Edward Douglass White, who served on the United States Supreme Court from 1894 until his death in 1921, spending his last 11 years as Chief Justice. The other is from former Governor Huey P. Long.

Virginia currently has a figure in Statuary Hall, and that is George Washington. In December, the state removed its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee which stood at the nation’s Capitol for 111 years.

“Confederation is a symbol of the racist and divisive history of Virginia, and it is high time that we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity and inclusion,” said Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, in a statement.

Guest pointed out in his statement that each state’s legislature already has the power to decide which statues to send to Capitol Hill.

Mississippi lawmakers showed no appetite for this debate, but they took a landmark vote in June 2020 to remove the last state flag that included the Confederate Battle Emblem. They don’t have to wait for a directive from Congress to start discussing other historical figures who could become representatives of the Mississippi still life.

They might consider civil rights leaders Medgar Evers or Fannie Lou Hamer.

There are several prominent Mississippians in the art world: BB King, Elvis Presley, Margaret Walker Alexander, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and William Faulkner.


Emily Wagster Pettus has been covering Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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