Maryland has a chance to become the first state to honor an African-American in National Statuary Hall.
There are 100 statues in the U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall, representing great Americans from all 50 states. Only 9 of the statues are of women. None are of African-Americans.
Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE), an organization dedicated to highlighting women’s history and achievements, announced today that it is teaming up with the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to put a statue of Harriet Tubman in Statuary Hall. Tubman, a Maryland-born slave who became a renowned conductor on the Underground Railroad, would be the first African-American in Statuary Hall and only the tenth woman.
“Harriet Tubman represents what is best about America: courage, selflessness, and an overriding sense of justice,” says Dr. Lynette Long, the president of EVE. “She is truly one of the great American heroes.”
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore in about 1820; her exact birth date is unknown. In 1849 she fled north to freedom, where she joined the secret network of free African-Americans and white sympathizers who helped runaways escape—the Underground Railroad. She became known as “the Moses of her people,” risking her life repeatedly to return to Maryland and lead slaves to freedom. When the Civil War started, Tubman became a scout, spy, and nurse for the Union Army. She spent her later years as a champion of civil rights and women’s suffrage.
Linda Mahoney, the president of Maryland NOW, says that Tubman is an inspiring figure who deserves to be commemorated in Statuary Hall. “Harriet Tubman was an amazing person who risked her life many times to lead people to a land of liberty and opportunity,” says Mahoney. “When visitors go to the Capitol Building and look for the heroes from Maryland, this is who we want them to see. Americans need to be taught that our great country was forged by the contributions of individuals. It didn’t just happen. We should emulate the wonderful women, like Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman and Rachel Carson, who pursued their dreams. We need to encourage and honor the contributions of the female populace as well as the male. Statuary Hall is a terrific place to pursue this effort for equal visibility.”
By law, each state is allowed to honor two people from its history with life-sized bronze or marble statues placed in the Capitol Building. The statues can be swapped out after 10 years. Maryland is currently represented by Charles Carroll (1737-1832) and John Hanson (1715-1783), Revolutionary War figures whose statues both date from 1903.
More than 3 million visitors tour the Capitol Building each year, and Statuary Hall is one of the most popular stops.
“What a lot of those visitors probably don’t realize is that the Capitol was built partly with slave labor,” says Suzanne Scoggins, the communications director for EVE. “The huge marble columns in Statuary Hall were quarried, cut, and polished by slaves.” Harriet Tubman would be the first enslaved person honored with a statue in the Hall.
Most of the statues in the collection date from before 1940, but in 2000 Congress voted to allow states to replace one or both of their existing statues with more up-to-date models. So far three states have taken advantage of the new rules. California sent a statue of Ronald Reagan to replace Thomas Starr King, Kansas replaced George W. Glick with Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Alabama replaced Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry with a bronze figure of Helen Keller that has become one of the top tourist draws in the Capitol Building. Missouri, Michigan, and Arizona are also in the process of swapping out older statues for new ones.
Dr. Long says that EVE’s goal is to make sure the new wave of replacement statues includes women. The organization kicked off its Statuary Hall Project earlier this year in Ohio, where a public referendum is being held to decide who should replace the statue of William Allen. EVE is also working with officials in Kansas to place a statue of Amelia Earhart in Statuary Hall, and is launching similar statue projects in New York, California, Florida, and Oklahoma.
Lynette Long, President of EVE
Suzanne Scoggins, EVE Director of Communications
Linda Mahoney, President of Maryland NOW
Maryland Statue Project
Maryland’s existing statues: Charles Carroll and John Hanson
About Statuary Hall
Rules for replacing statues
National Statuary Hall Collection official website
“History of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the United States Capitol” (pdf)
Newsflash: Harriet Tubman in Statuary Hall Campaign : Ms Magazine Blog says:
[...] Visibility Everywhere (EVE) and Maryland’s NOW launched a campaign today to get a Harriet Tubman statue in the National Statuary Hall, where she would be the first [...]
EVE officially launches Harriet Tubman project : EVE | Equal Visibility Everywhere says:
[...] We have lift-off! Our press release was issued yesterday: EVE teams up with Maryland NOW to put Harriet Tubman in National Statuary Hall. [...]