A Few Options for Virginia to Replace the Statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol

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The Big Picture
By Glynn Wilson –

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A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol: Glynn Wilson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – So far key politicians in Virginia have not learned the lesson of Charlottesville.

There is no public evidence that Governor Terry McAuliffe, Senators Tim Kaine or Mark Warner have noticed that there is a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol, the center of federal power, even though I have notified their staffs by phone and email.

Why is Robert E. Lee’s Statue in the U.S. Capitol Not Yet the Subject of Controversy?

Just in case they are already in secret talks with the Architect of the Capitol to remove the statue of Lee and other Confederates from National Statuary Hall in the middle of the night, maybe they need some help with suggestions for replacements.

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A statue of George Washington, the first President of the United States, in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol building: Glynn Wilson

If you have any suggestions, we would love to see them in the comments.

Meanwhile, here are a few options.

1. Since Virginia already has a statue of founding father George Washington in the hall, perhaps they would not want another. But still, for tourists who visit the Capitol and want to learn about important historical figures from the state, Thomas Jefferson would be at the top of any list. Surely there are plenty of Jefferson statues around they could borrow, maybe from Monticello. If he is controversial these days because he did own slaves, perhaps the committee might want to choose someone of African-American descent.

2. If they want to pick a more modern figure and to offer some diversity, we’ve got the perfect choice. Scan the Wikipedia page for famous people from Virgina and one name stands out: Booker T. Washington.

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A statue of Booker T. Washington at Hampton University

An American educator, author, orator, and advisor to presidents of the United States, between 1890 and 1915 Washington was the dominant leader in the African-American community. From a base at Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama, he was one of the founders of the National Negro Business League. As lynchings in the South reached a peak in 1895, Washington gave a speech known as the “Atlanta compromise” which brought him national fame. There is already a monument to Washington in Franklin County, Virginia. If he is seen by some as a moderate on civil rights, there are a few other choices.

3. Perhaps the committee could pick a more modern military leader. How about Douglas MacArthur, an American five-star general and Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s who played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II? While he was born in Arkansas, he considered Norfolk, Virginia, his hometown. He is buried there.

4. If the state wanted to honor a pioneering sports figure, they could pick Arthur Ashe, one of the first black tennis professionals and a social activist in his own right.

5. If the state wanted to celebrate its rich contribution to American music, what about honoring June Carter Cash? Or better yet, her uncle, A. P. Carter, one of the founders of blue grass and country music.

Surely there is someone the state could be proud to honor other than Robert E. Lee. Besides, his statue has been there since 1934 when it was suggested by the known racist newspaper publisher Harry Byrd the year he became a Senator.

Byrd was also the senator who would not allow Shenandoah National Park to be racially integrated upon it’s opening in the 1930s.

Shenandoah’s Lewis Mountain Campground Welcomed African Americans

If the state of Virginia, with Democrats in the governor’s office and two Democratic Senators, cannot help get past the state’s racist past by removing this statue put there by Harry Byrd, perhaps there might be a courageous Republican or two who might take up this cause?

I will be asking questions about this next week in and around the Capitol with video cameras rolling.

Who would you suggest?

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.