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Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Did you know there are Confederate statues in the US Capitol? Here's why.


Updated August 17, 2017 12:10 PM EDT

House Thursday Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to join House Democrats in supporting legislation to remove Confederate statues from the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

“The halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy. 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 said in a statement.

“The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible. If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call upon Speaker Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately," she added.

People across the country are calling for the removal of Confederate statues and monuments after protesters including white supremacists objected to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia. But there are several famous statues of members of the Confederacy inside the U.S. Capitol building.

They're part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, which was authorized by Congress over 150 years ago. Since then, each state has chosen two statues to represent two notable figures from their states.

States like Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia, have selected prominent Confederate leaders for their statues and they are on display for all visitors to the Capitol to see.

Here's Jefferson Davis. He was the president of the Confederate State of America and his statue is very easy to find right in Statuary Hall.

A statue of Jefferson Davis in the U.S. Capitol

Just across the hall from Davis is a statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States. In his infamous "Cornerstone speech" Stephens said slavery was the "proper status" for people from Africa and said it "was the immediate cause" of the Civil War.

Alexander Hamilton Stephens
A statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens in the U.S. Capitol

There's a statue of Lee, the commander of the Confederate forces, in the crypt of the Capitol.

Robert E. Lee
A statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol

It's not just Confederates. Just across the room from Lee's statue is a statue of Charles Aycock, the former governor of North Carolina and a supporter of white supremacists. His statue is right next to a statue of John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States who strongly supported slavery.

Charles Aycock
A statues of former North Carolina Gov. Charles Aycock in the U.S. Capitol

Now, some people say these kinds of statues should be removed from the Capitol building.

"It's kind of racist to have some Confederates, statues in a building that's supposed to be for everyone," said Machai Wilson, 12, who traveled from Baltimore to visit the Capitol on Wednesday.

"I think it was acceptable a while ago, but lately I feel like people are taking the whole idea of [the statues] too far, and they're taking it to their side using it as a way to say 'it's OK to be mean to African-Americans,'" 20-year-old Florida native Kayla Shazal said, adding, "I think that they should be removed because it's not really good history anymore."

They're not alone, as some lawmakers have called for the statues to be removed.

"Confederate memorabilia have no place in this country and especially not in the United States Capitol," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said in a statement on Tuesday. He urged lawmakers to "work with me to ensure the permanent removal of all offensive and despicable Confederate imagery" from the Capitol.

In a statement on Monday, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), chairman of the Congressional Black Congress, said, "We will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States in order to keep African Americans in chains."

But some people think removing the statues from the Capitol would erase important parts of U.S. history.

"I think American history should be preserved. Where do we draw the line? Who decides who doesn’t like or does like something?” said Dominic Cappolla, 51, of New York.

“I can see why people might be offended, but I think the past is the past and I think if you airbrush the past from the present then, you’re never gonna learn from it," said Rosemary Senior, 61 who was visiting Washington D.C. from the U.K.

State lawmakers have to request a replacement for their states statues, but federal lawmakers could also pass legislation ordering the removal of offensive statues. Thompson pushed a resolution in the House in 2015 calling for the removal of Confederate flag imagery from the Capitol after white supremacist Dylan Roof killed nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

However, some lawmakers are calling on their states to replace the statues. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) successfully pushed for a state law to replace the statue of Aycock with a statue of Rev. Billy Graham.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) called on lawmakers in her home state to call a special session to replace the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. State lawmakers agreed to remove the statue but they haven't been able to agree on a replacement yet.

Crews removed Confederate monuments in Baltimore overnight
Confederate monuments in Gettysburg are staying put, park officials say
Richmond’s mayor said its Confederate monuments should stay there

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