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Norton pushes Capitol statues
Question of the Day
The District’s lack of a full vote in Congress is well-known, but the city also is excluded from the Capitol’s Statutory Hall, where only the 50 states can showcase their famous figures in bronze or marble.
D.C. leaders, who have long fought for full voting representation, now are 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 states.
“We are in the continental United States, the Capitol is in our city, and we have schoolchildren who are born and raised in D.C. and go up there and they don’t see anyone from here,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. He introduced legislation to the council last year recommending that Congress make room for a few more statues.
In May, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s representative in Congress, introduced a bill in the House. The House Administration Committee was to schedule a hearing, but Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, won’t have a chance to cast a vote on the bill because she doesn’t get a full vote on the House floor.
Mrs. Norton and city officials see the lack of D.C. 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,” she said. “We think as American citizens we deserve the same respect.”
Each state chooses and pays for its statues, which must represent people who are deceased, then “gifts” them to the collection. The historic Statuary Hall, a two-story, semicircular chamber with Italian-carved marble columns, contains 38 statues, including one from Virginia of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Others, including 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 not made a final decision on whom they would commemorate in the Capitol. Last year, residents voted as their top pick 19th-century abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass.
“He is just a man of enormous stature and is identified very much with Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Evans said.
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities approved the choice but not the No. 2 pick: jazz great Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, who was born in the District.
The commission instead allocated the second spot to Pierre L’Enfant, the architect who created the city’s street design — the grid and the circles connected by avenues that radiate from the Capitol.
“I think Duke Ellington should be in the Capitol,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat who represents the jazz master’s old Northwest neighborhoods 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.”
Mrs. Norton’s office said the statues should be completed later this year and will be housed in the city’s John A. Wilson Building. If her bill becomes law, the statues can be moved to the Capitol.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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