Portraits honoring four former House speakers who served in the Confederacy were removed Thursday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the men “embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.″
Pelosi sent a letter to the House Clerk on Thursday asking for the removal of portraits of four former speakers of the House who served in the Confederacy, the latest effort by Congress to reexamine Capitol Hill’s relationship to Confederate leaders and symbols.
Pelosi originally said at her news conference that the clerk would oversee removal of the portraits on Friday, but later her office announced plans to remove the portraits Thursday afternoon. Friday marks Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the date that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. The holiday is the oldest regular U.S. celebration of the end of slavery.
Calling the halls of Congress “the very heart of our democracy,″ Pelosi said, “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor″ to commemorate the Confederacy.
Hours later, the portraits were gone, taken away by workers and placed in storage. The ornately framed portraits had hung outside the House chamber for decades, barely noticed by lawmakers, staffers and journalists who crowded into the carpeted Speaker’s Lobby adjacent to the chamber.
Three of the portraits hung near a staircase used by lawmakers to enter the House chamber; Crisp’s portrait was in the Speaker’s Lobby, where portraits of House leaders dating to the earliest days of the republic are displayed in honor.
Pelosi said Thursday she wasn’t aware until recently that the former speakers served in the Confederacy.
The former House speakers in question include Robert Hunter of Virginia, Howell Cobb of Georgia, James Orr of South Carolina and Charles Crisp of Georgia.
“There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” Pelosi wrote in the letter.
Weeks of protests sparked by multiple episodes of high-profile episodes of police brutality have touched off a debate on Capitol Hill over the display of Confederate-era symbols.
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Over in the Senate, Senate Democrats attempted on Thursday to pass a bill by unanimous consent to remove Confederate statues from Capitol, but the effort was blocked by a GOP objection.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, tried to pass their bill by unanimous consent to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol. Booker said the statues represent “hurt” and “pain” and don’t belong in the Capitol. Schumer said they honor men who are traitors and fought against the U.S. to advance slavery.
Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, objected to their request arguing that the current law allows states to decide who they want to honor in the Statuary Hall collection and therefore it’s up the states to decide to replace them not Congress. He noted that several states already have removed Confederate statues and others are moving to remove them.
Blunt also said he supports changing the names of military bases named for Confederates and said that is up to the Congress to decide, not the states where the bases are located.