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'Homage To Hate': Pelosi Calls For Confederate Statues Removed From U.S. Capitol

A statue of Robert E. Lee stands in the U.S. Capitol, seen in 2019.
Bill Clark
CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
A statue of Robert E. Lee stands in the U.S. Capitol, seen in 2019.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called for the removal of statues of Confederate soldiers and officials from the U.S. Capitol as reignited conversations about the nation's treatment of racial minorities have once again brought the monuments' history into question.

In an open letter to the Joint Committee on the Library, Pelosi asked Congress to "lead by example" and remove 11 Confederate statues from the Capitol.

"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. Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals. Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed," Pelosi wrote in the letter addressed to committee Chair Roy Blunt and Vice Chair Zoe Lofgren.

The Confederate States of America, its military and its flag remain controversial in the United States. The uprising launched by the Confederacy in defense of slave ownership led to more than 618,000 deaths, and many view the continued reverence of its symbols as a painful reminder of the nation's racist inception.

Others, however, defend the Confederacy and its memorials as a tribute to the U.S. South and its former leaders.

Pelosi's letter is the latest high-profile consideration of the Confederacy and its monuments' visibility in public spaces. President Trump on Wednesday issued a statement marking his ardent refusal to renaming U.S. military bases that are named after Confederate leaders.

"It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our legendary military bases such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, and the list goes on. These monumental and very powerful bases have become part of a great American heritage and a history of winning, victory, and freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our heroes here and won two world wars," the president wrote in a tweet and later told reporters via White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

"Therefore, my administration will not even consider the renaming of these magnificent and fabled military installations. ,,, Our history as the greatest nation in the world will not be tampered with. Respect our military."

Soldiers of the Confederacy, a nation built from seceded former U.S. member states, fought against the U.S. military.

In response to Pelosi's letter, Lofgren expressed her agreement with the House speaker's request.

"As Vice Chairperson of the Joint Committee on the Library and Chairperson of the House Fine Arts Board, I take very seriously my duty and responsibility to ensure only our more aspirational values are displayed in the United States Capitol. Indeed, what the Confederate statutes in theNational Statuary Hall Collection represent is anathema to who we are as a Congress and a country," Lofgren said in a statement.

"I agree that the Joint Committee and Architect of the Capitol should expediently remove these symbols of cruelty and bigotry from the halls of the Capitol. I stand ready, and call on the Chair of the Joint Committee to swiftly approve the removal of these statues. The Capitol building belongs to the American people and cannot serve as a place of honor for the hatred and racism that tears at the fabric of our nation, the very poison that these statues embody."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.