D.C. denied statue in national exhibition
Vail, CO Colorado
WASHINGTON ” It seems the nation’s capital just can’t get any love from Capitol Hill.
Unlike states, the District of Columbia lacks a full vote in Congress ” a well-known fact that has inspired rallies and the popular “Taxation Without Representation” license plates. Lesser known is the district’s exclusion from the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, where only states can showcase their famous figures in bronze or marble.
The district’s leaders, who’ve long fought for full voting representation, are also asking Congress to welcome two statues of prominent Washingtonians into the Capitol’s statue collection. They say the city deserves statuary recognition just like the rest of the country.
“We are in the continental United States. The Capitol is in our city, and we have school children who are born and raised in D.C. and go up there, and they don’t see anyone from here,” said city Council member Jack Evans.
In May, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s delegate, introduced a bill in the House, and a hearing is being rescheduled by the Committee for House Administration after being postponed last Thursday. Norton, however, won’t get to vote on the bill because she doesn’t get a full vote on the House floor.
Norton and city officials see the lack of District of Columbia statues as yet another snub to the city’s more than 500,000 residents.
“What it means to the district is the insult of being the city for the nation’s capital, but having none of your own heroes, where all the other heroes are commemorated,” Norton said. “We think as American citizens we deserve the same respect.”
Each state chooses and pays for its own statues, which must represent state dignitaries who are dead, and “gifts” them to the collection. Only 38 statues, such as Virginia’s Robert E. Lee, are in the historic National Statuary Hall, a two-story, semicircular chamber with Italian-carved marble columns.
Others, like Maryland’s John Hanson (a delegate to the Continental Congress) and Delaware’s John Middleton Clayton (U.S. senator and Whig Party member), are in prominent positions elsewhere in the Capitol. The collection of 100 statues was completed in 2005 with contributions from New Mexico and Nevada.
City officials have yet to make a final decision on who they will commemorate in the Capitol.
In a vote last year, residents made 19th-century abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass their top pick. “He is just a man of enormous stature and is identified very much with Washington, D.C.,” Evans said.
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities approved the choice of Douglass. But it didn’t agree with the residents’ No. 2 pick: jazz great Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, who was born in Washington.
The commission instead gave the second spot to Pierre L’Enfant, the architect who created the city’s street design, which is a grid of circles connected by avenues radiating from the Capitol.
If Norton’s bill passes, the city council will have the final say on which figures will be made into statues. Several council members are backing The Duke.
“I think Duke Ellington should be in the Capitol,” said Council member Jim Graham, who represents the jazz master’s old northwest neighborhood of Shaw and U Street. “I don’t know why they would change that. There are many ways in which L’Enfant is honored in this city. But Duke Ellington, he is extraordinarily important. He is super important to us.”
Some area residents said they’d be fine with any prominent District of Columbia figure. “They’re both great men,” said Warren Jackson, a data analyst who was born and raised in the district.
Norton’s office said the statues should be completed later this year and will be housed in the John A. Wilson Building, which is the district’s city hall. The statues can be moved to the Capitol if Norton’s bill passes.
“We have no doubt that we’ll get this bill through,” Norton said. “Here’s something where the ducks are lined up in a row like no other bill I’ve had this year.”
But Norton won’t say who she prefers to see in statue form.
“These are all national heroes,” Norton said.