Nancy Pelosi says Confederate statute from Alabama, others ‘have to go’

Published 12:23 pm Thursday, June 11, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that it’s time to remove symbols honoring Confederate figures from the U.S. Capitol building — including one given to the Capitol by the state of Alabama in 1925 — and military bases as the pandemic and racial unrest force a national reckoning with racial discrimination.

“These names have to go from these bases and these statues have to go from the Capitol,“ Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. “The American people know these names have to go.”

Confederate monuments have reemerged as a national flashpoint since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.

One of the monuments on Pelosi’s list includes a statue of Joseph Wheeler, who served as a lieutenant general for the Confederate States of America’s army during the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Wheeler eventually became one of Alabama’s representatives in the U.S. House and later volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American War.

The bronze statue was created by artist Berthold Nebel and given to the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol by the state of Alabama in 1925. Alabama’s second statue in the Capitol’s statuary hall is of Helen Keller, a girl from Alabama who was blind, mute and deaf who championed for the rights of handicapped persons. The statue of Keller was donated in 2009, and it replaced a statue of Jabez Lamar, a Confederate officer.

Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, and some state officials are considering taking them down.

President Donald Trump vowed Wednesday that he would not rename military bases honoring Confederate generals, even as NASCAR announced it would ban displays of the Confederate flag at its races.

But Republicans in the Senate, who are at risk of losing their majority in the November elections, aren’t with Trump on this issue. A GOP-led Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to have the names of Confederate figures removed from military bases and other Pentagon assets.

The ban would be imposed within three years and was approved by a voice vote as a piece of the annual Pentagon policy bill. A commission would be set up to oversee the process. The provision is likely to be matched when the Democratic-controlled House takes up the measure in coming weeks.

Confederate symbols remain both in the military and on Capitol Hill are coming under attack as public opinion has dramatically shifted since Floyd’s killing.

“The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,” Pelosi wrote earlier. “Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals.”

At her press conference, she said of Trump: “He seems to be the only person left who doesn’t get it.”

The presence of statues of generals and other figures of the Confederacy in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has been denounced by African American lawmakers for many years. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., was known to give tours pointing out the numerous statues.

But it’s up to the states to determine which of their historical figures to display.

Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis is represented by one of two statues from Mississippi. The other statue from Mississippi is a statue of James Zachariah George, who served as a Confederate colonel and who, as a member of the Mississipi Secession Convention, signed the Ordinance of Secession which led to the American Civil War.

Pelosi noted that Davis and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, whose statue comes from Georgia, “were charged with treason against the United States.”

Senators on the Armed Services Committee approved the amendment on renaming the bases on a bipartisan voice vote, but it was not with robust debate — and some dissent.

Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., wanted assurances local communities would have input, aides said. There was also a push to ensure some flexibility, for example, for commanders who served both sides. Exceptions are also made for gravemarkers, all but ensuring no disruptions at Arlington National Cemetery, the aides said.

But no senators on the panel flatly opposed the plan. The new commission will be made up of eight members, four from the Defense Department and four from both parties in the Senate.