Confederate statues targeted for removal in series of House bills

Bills to identify and remove monuments to the Confederacy on public lands will get a subcommittee hearing today

The pedestal for the statue of Confederate general Albert Pike remains empty after it was toppled by protesters at Judiciary Square in Washington on June 20. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
The pedestal for the statue of Confederate general Albert Pike remains empty after it was toppled by protesters at Judiciary Square in Washington on June 20. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
Posted July 21, 2020 at 5:30am

Three bills to identify and remove Confederate monuments on federal land, including a privately funded statue of Robert E. Lee in Maryland, will get a hearing from a House Natural Resources subcommittee on Tuesday.

Rep. Anthony G. Brown, D-Md., is scheduled to speak on his bill to remove the Lee statue, which sits on the Antietam National Battlefield and has been vandalized with graffiti in support of the Black Lives Matter movement twice this summer. The battlefield is in the district of Rep. David Trone, D-Md., who, along with Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

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Also at Tuesday's hearing of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., will speak about his bill to inventory Confederate monuments under the control of the departments of Defense, Interior and Veterans’ Affairs. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., will speak on behalf of her bill to remove the statue of confederate Albert Pike, which protesters toppled and set on fire in June.

Efforts in Congress to remove the statues of men who fought to maintain slavery have accelerated in recent weeks, following the police killing of George Floyd and the spate of national and international protests that came after.

On Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee voted 30-18 on July 10 to advance the fiscal 2021 Legislative Branch spending bill that would remove Confederate statues and two busts of people with racist histories from Capitol grounds. A Senate push to change the names of military bases that honor Confederate figures also has bipartisan support. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ordered the removal in June of four portraits of her predecessors who were part of the Confederacy.

“We didn’t know about this until we were taking inventory of the statues and the curator told us that there were four paintings of speakers in the Capitol of the United States, four speakers who had served in the Confederacy,” Pelosi said.

It’s also unclear how many Confederate symbols there are on federal lands because there is no exhaustive catalog, said Ralph Jones, a spokesman for McEachin. A Congressional Research Service report published in 2017 found no such inventory exists.

National protests over police violence have drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump, who issued an executive order about federal monuments on June 26. Trump has threatened to veto the massive defense authorization bill over the Confederate provision.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a Fox News interview June 26 the Trump administration was analyzing the security of monuments on federal land. “Obviously, certain monuments and memorials have a higher level of security, but we're in a process of securing, doing just that, deciding what we need,” he said.

Brown’s legislation would remove the Lee statue, which a private citizen installed on private property in 2003. The National Park Service, a division of the Interior Department, acquired the land in Sharpsburg and statue in 2005.

Christian Unkenholz, a spokesman for the congressman, said beyond the backlash to the monument, it is also historically incorrect and that the National Park Service installed a plaque on the Lee statue to correct those inaccuracies.

Symbols of slavery

“The statue claims Lee was ‘personally against secession and slavery’ yet Lee was a brutal slave owner; fought for the Confederacy comprised of states that each explicitly mentioned slavery as the justification for secession; and, the army he led kidnapped free African Americans and massacred surrendering Black Union soldiers,” Unkenholz said in an emailed statement.

He added, “The statue depicts General Lee on horseback but it is known that General Lee travelled to Sharpsburg by way of an ambulance due to a broken wrist.”

Brown, Raskin and ex-Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., filed the bill to remove the Lee statue in 2017.

Robert W. Lee IV, a reverend and descendant of the general, is expected to speak in support of Brown’s bill.

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who worked to remove Confederate symbols from his city while in office, is also expected to speak at the hearing.