JACKSON — Legislative leaders are noncommittal or hesitant to advance legislation that replaces Mississippi two statues of white supremacists in the U.S. Capitol.
House Rules Committee Chairman Rob Roberson said he recently studied the process for how states can replace statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington and wants to have an open dialogue in the future — but not this year.
“I’ll be honest with you, it probably won’t happen this year, but I’ll consider it in the future,” Roberson, R-Starkville, said.
Senate Rules Chairman Dean Kirby was also noncommittal when asked by the Daily Journal if he would advance legislation to replace the statues of J.Z. George and Jefferson Davis, two leaders connected to the Confederacy.
“I won’t say that I will support the bills, but I will say they will be looked at,” Kirby, R-Pearl, said.
To change a statue, federal law requires a majority of lawmakers in both legislative chambers to vote to approve the replacement, and the state is required to pay for the costs of replacing the two statues.
Following a Daily Journal in-depth review of the history behind Mississippi’s current statues, several lawmakers filed bills to replace the statues of George and Davis.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, and Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, filed bills that would create a commission to make recommendations to the Legislature on replacing the statues.
Horhn and Simmons, both of whom are Black, told the Daily Journal they feel like the two statues are not truly representative of Mississippians and believe a more inclusive figure should represent the state in Washington.
“Images are important,” Horhn said. “The image represented by those two statues does not allow Mississippi to put its best foot forward.”
Both bills would allow the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to appoint members to the commission.
In the House, Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, filed a bill to replace the two statues with Fannie Lou Hamer, a famous civil rights and voting rights activist from Mississippi, and Hiram Revels, the first Black person to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“The idea that we sent those symbols to Washington to represent the state of Mississippi makes no sense to me," Johnson, who is also Black, previously said.
Some suggestions for replacement statues in Mississippi include Elvis Presley, B.B King, Eudora Welty, Medgar Evers, Hamer and William Faulkner.
“Deciding on two people to represent what Mississippi would be a hard task, but only because there are so many people deserving of that honor,” Simmons said.
The history of the two Mississippi figures currently honored in U.S. Capitol and their vivid racism is well documented.
Davis served in the U.S. House and Senate from Mississippi before becoming the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. After losing the Civil War, Davis was captured by the federal government and imprisoned for two years. He was later released and never criminally charged.
Davis would go on to say in a speech to the Mississippi Legislature that if had the chance to change any of his past actions about succession, he would not do anything differently.
George was a member of Mississippi’s Secession Convention in 1861, and he signed the secession ordinance that included these words: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”
George served in the Confederate Army and was also the architect of the 1890 Constitution that sought to reestablish white supremacy in the state and disenfranchise Black citizens from voting or holding elected office.
Each U.S. state is allowed to place two statues of people “illustrious for their historic renown” or “distinguished civil or military services,” after the Congress passed a federal law in the mid- nineteenth century establishing the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Around 3 to 5 million people pass through the statuary collection in the Capitol each year, according to the Architect of the Capitol’s website, to glance at who are supposed to be the country’s most reputable figures.
But the leaders of the Magnolia State, who often boast about Mississippi’s literary, musical and civic impact on the country, continue to honor the legacy of two slave owners who actively worked to maintain the white power structure of their day.
Many Southern states have replaced its original statues with more inclusive figures.
Alabama replaced a statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a Confederate officer, with one of Helen Keller, a political activist and disability rights advocate.
Arkansas is in the process of replacing statues of Uriah Milton Rose, a Confederate sympathizer, and James Paul Clarke, a former U.S. senator, with statues of civil rights activist Daisy Bates and musician Johnny Cash.
Virginia removed Confederate general Robert E. Lee from the collection and is in the process of determining the replacement.