Can Mississippi’s Confederate statues in Washington DC be replaced?

Statuary Hall could see changes in 2025

Several Republican lawmakers in Mississippi are now seeking to replace the Confederate statues representing the state in Washington, D.C., just weeks after Arkansas installed a statue of a civil rights activist next to Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis.

Several bills were introduced during the 2024 session to replace or create a committee to find replacements for Davis, a U.S. Senator and notably President of the Confederate States of America, and James Z. George, a Confederate politician , military officer and namesake. of George County. However, these bills died without ever being discussed in the Rules Committees of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

The statues have been on display in the Statuary Hall of the United States Congress for about 100 years. The Davis statue now stands next to that of Daisy Bates of Arkansas, a black civil rights leader who, among other things, is involved in the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. The juxtaposition of the two is remarkable.

House Rules Committee Chairman Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, who declined to comment on a related report earlier in February, told the Clarion Ledger on Tuesday that he plans to address changing the statues.

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“It’s a big deal and it’s becoming an extremely hot topic,” Shanks said. “I wanted to have some time to look at it now that there aren’t any other major things impacting the state like we did last session.”

Senate Rules Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, did not respond to several calls and messages seeking comment, nor did House Speaker Jason White, R-West. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s staff declined to comment.

Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, told the Clarion Ledger that she has been quietly working on this legislation for a few years, and she plans to pitch an outside group tied to tourism to lobby, advocate and provide leadership indicate efforts to replace Davis and George with more modern historical representations of Mississippi.

“It’s not about who comes down. It’s about who we can put there,” Boyd said. “It’s about what are the things we want to promote in the state and use as tourism to attract people.”

Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons said he believes there is bipartisan support.

“Even though this effort was made by Democrats, Democrats and Republicans want to honor someone who is more representative of modern-day Mississippi,” said Simmons, a Greenville native.

Several other House and Senate Democrats had harsh words for Republican leaders who waited until now to address the statues.

“It shows that the leadership of those various committees had the opportunity to review that legislation, but took their eyes off it and turned away from doing the right thing,” said Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said the state can simply do a better job than having Davis and George represent the state in the Capitol.

“I expect we will reintroduce this bill. A committee will be created to investigate who best represents Mississippi,” he said. “There are some controversial topics that go to the Rules Committee and (it’s) generally not the place for controversial topics, and I understand that, but this is important.”

What is Statuary Hall and who is Daisy Bates?

Statuary Hall was established in the US Capitol in 1807, but was destroyed by British troops in 1814. The hall, along with the Capitol, was rebuilt a few years later.

Over the years, states have submitted so many statues that the architect of the Capitol has had to display several in other places around the main building. Mississippi is also one of the few states that still has statues of the Confederacy in its building. Arkansas, a former member of that list, voted to change the statue in 2019.

Seventeen states have changed their statues since 2000, according to Congressional data, and some Southern states have replaced Confederates with modern historical figures, civil rights activists and even prominent Native Americans. Arkansas now has Bates; Virginia has Barbara Johns, and Florida now has Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the most important black educators of the 20th century.

According to the National Women’s History Museum, Bates was a prominent civil rights activist in Little Rock, Arkansas. During the 20th century, she helped run a popular newspaper, The Arkansas Weekly, chaired the Arkansas NAACP chapter and pushed the state’s schools to integrate after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in 1954.

She was widely known for her efforts with the Arkansas Nine, a group of nine students whom she regularly managed and assisted in the integration of Central High School in Little Rock.

“She regularly took the students to school and worked tirelessly to ensure they were protected from violent crowds. She also advised the group and even joined the school’s parent organization,” the Museum wrote about her.

Neither the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP nor the chapter representing her native Union County responded to several calls or messages seeking comment about Bates or the placement of her statue in Congress.

How to replace a statue, who is being considered?

Boyd said that even if the Legislature agrees to replace Davis and George, it would need approval from a congressional committee, and locations to move the two existing statues would also need to be submitted and approved.

All costs associated with the removal of the old statues and the construction and installation of the new statues would be recovered from the state.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, speaking to the Clarion Ledger earlier this year, brought up rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley and blues icon BB King. Another name proposed by Democrats was famed civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer.

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Grant McLaughlin covers state government for the Clarion Ledger. He can be reached at [email protected] or 972-571-2335.