March 28, 2011 by EVE · Comments Off
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Last Thursday a Maryland Senate committee approved an amendment that effectively guts the bill to place a statue of Harriet Tubman in National Statuary Hall.
The original bill (Senate Bill 351) calls for Maryland’s existing statue of John Hanson to be replaced with one of Harriet Tubman. The new amendment almost completely rewrites the bill, asking Congress instead to give Maryland special permission to place three statues, with the Tubman statue as the third addition.
“But we already know the answer to that,” says Suzanne Scoggins of EVE (Equal Visibility Everywhere), which sponsored the original legislation. “The answer is no. Each state is allowed two statues. The rules for Statuary Hall are precise and carefully formulated. There are 100 statues in the collection—two from each state—and the Capitol barely has room for all of them as it is. If you want to change a statue, you bring one home and send the new one in its place. There is absolutely no reason to expect that Congress will make a special exception for Maryland and allow them to have three statues. The supporters of the amendment are calling it a ‘compromise,’ but it’s not a compromise. Maryland isn’t going to be allowed to have three statues, and they know it. The effect of the amendment is to kill the Harriet Tubman statue.”
In an statement, EVE President Lynette Long said:
Maryland had a unique opportunity to replace a slaveholder with a slave, a white man with a Black woman, a colonial figure with a Civil War figure. They have squandered that opportunity. Instead, they’ve chosen to petition Congress for something they know they won’t get, in a transparent attempt to pass the buck to the federal government.
The population of Maryland is 29% African-American and 51% female. Harriet Tubman, an African-American woman from Maryland, was one of the most courageous and inspiring individuals in our nation’s history. She was truly one of the all-time great American heroes, one of a handful of names that every schoolchild in this country knows. It is only right that she should be one of the two individuals representing Maryland in National Statuary Hall. Yet a small group of white male legislators has derailed the entire project.
Leading the opposition is Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr., a 68-year-old Democrat who has been a member of the Maryland Senate since 1975. He is joined by two other long-standing Democrats, Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton (a member of the Senate since 1995 and a relative of John Hanson) and Senator Roy Dyson, also a member of the Senate since 1995.
These gentlemen apparently believe that Maryland is best represented in Statuary Hall by an all-male, all-white contingent. Rather than honor Harriet Tubman, they prefer to keep the statues of Charles Carroll and John Hanson that have been in place since 1903. Charles Carroll was the largest slaveholder in the American colonies, and John Hanson was a minor figure who served a one-year term presiding over the Continental Congress.
What is especially disturbing is that on February 16, 2011, the Southern Maryland News reported Senator Miller as proposing that “a special category should be established in Statuary Hall for women and blacks who were not considered when states first were invited to contribute statues in 1864.” This smacks of separate but equal. It’s a sexist and racist statement that ignores the fact that women and Blacks have made contributions throughout history that have been ignored.
Senator Miller has argued repeatedly that John Hanson deserves to remain in Statuary Hall because he was “the first president of the United States.” This is a popular Maryland legend that has been debunked by historians numerous times. John Hanson served a one-year term as president of the Continental Congress, a parliamentary role with no executive power. A total of fifteen men served as presidents of Congress in the years from 1774 to 1789; John Hanson was ninth in the sequence.
Harriet Tubman would be the first African-American in National Statuary Hall and the tenth woman. There are currently a total of 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection; 91 are of white males.
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 (Kansas, California, and Alabama) have swapped out their statues. Several more are in the process of doing so: Missouri, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and Kansas (again). Last week Iowa joined the club when it voted to replace its statue of Senator James Harlan with one of Norman Borlaug.
EVE is working with the State of Kansas on their new statue, which is to be of Amelia Earhart.
There are a handful of sculptures in the Capitol that are not part of the Statuary Hall Collection, such as the bust of Martin Luther King, but these were commissioned by Congress. They are not the gifts of individual states.
The Harriet Tubman Statue Project was sponsored by EVE in partnership with Maryland NOW, and has been endorsed by Governor Martin O’Malley, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the Women’s Caucus (Women Legislators of Maryland), the Maryland NAACP, the Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women, and many other organizations.
Lynette Long, President of EVE
Suzanne Scoggins, EVE Director of Women’s History