Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the United States House of Representatives, said on Thursday she is ordering the removal from the Capitol of portraits honouring four previous House speakers who served in the Confederacy.
In a letter to the House clerk, Pelosi requested the immediate removal of portraits depicting former speakers Robert Hunter of Virginia, James Orr of South Carolina, and Howell Cobb and Charles Crisp, both of Georgia.
Calling the halls of US Congress “the very heart of our democracy″, Pelosi said, “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honour for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.″
Pelosi noted that Friday is Juneteenth, honouring the day in 1865 when many African Americans learned of the end of slavery after the Civil War. She called Juneteenth “a beautiful and proud celebration of freedom for African Americans” and noted that this year’s celebration comes “during a moment of extraordinary national anguish, as we grieve for the hundreds of Black Americans killed by racial injustice and police brutality, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others”.
In case you need a semi regular reminder that the U.S. Capitol was built by enslaved people (and literal receipts exist for their labor) https://t.co/6m8DgYC3lY
— K Tully-McManus (@ktullymcmanus) June 18, 2020
Orr, who served as speaker from 1857 to 1859, swore on the House floor to “preserve and perpetuate” slavery in order to “enjoy our property in peace, quiet and security”, Pelosi said in her letter. Hunter, who served at nearly every level of the Confederacy, including as Confederate secretary of state, served as speaker from 1839 to 1841.
Cobb served as speaker from 1849 to 1851, while Crisp served after the Civil War, from 1891 to 1895.
Earlier this month, Pelosi urged the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol and the renaming of US military bases that honour Confederate Army officers.
Democratic Senator Cory Booker on Thursday introduced a resolution calling for the removal of the statues, but the measure was blocked by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri. Blunt said the move would violate Congress’ agreement with the states, each of which is allowed to send two statues for display in the Capitol complex.