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Key Mississippi leader is open to replacing state’s white supremacist statues in Washington

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Key Mississippi leader is open to replacing state’s white supremacist statues in Washington

Jun 11, 2024 | 11:58 am ET
By Taylor Vance
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Key Mississippi leader is open to replacing state’s white supremacist statues in Washington
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Family members of Daisy Bates, of Arkansas, stand around her statue, Wednesday, May 8, 2024, after an unveiling ceremony for the statute of the civil rights activist inside of Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. The new statue is next to Mississippi’s statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

House Rules Chairman Fred Shanks will likely consider legislation next year that would replace Mississippi’s two statues of Confederate leaders at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, a move that would follow the lead of several other Southern states. 

Shanks, a Republican from Brandon, told Mississippi Today on Monday that if House Speaker Jason White refers a measure to his committee in the future that would replace the state’s statues of Jefferson Davis and J.Z. George in Washington, he would seriously study the legislation.

“The things I’m going to take into consideration is how much it costs and if we have the votes,” Shanks said. “So I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me. I got asked about it this year, but we had so much else going on that it was impossible to get to it. But it’s going to be a major decision.” 

While Democratic lawmakers have filed measures to replace the statues for years, Shanks’ recent comments are the first significant movement by GOP legislative leadership to replace the statues that the state placed in Washington nearly a century ago.

The Legislature could create a committee to decide on possible replacements, similar to the one made in 2020 to recommend a new state flag, or lawmakers themselves could pick the replacements. 

Shanks said he’s open to different ideas when selecting new statues, but he supports having world-renowned musician Elvis Presley as one of the two replacements. 

Shanks’ comments come after Arkansas last month unveiled a new statue of civil rights leader Daisey Bates. Bates’ statue stands next to Mississippi’s statue of Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Arkansas also voted to replace its other statute with one of musician Johnny Cash.

Alabama, in 2009, replaced a statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a Confederate officer, with one of Helen Keller, a political activist and disability rights advocate.

Florida approved a measure in 2016 to replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and founder of a Florida university.  

Virginia, in 2020, removed Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the collection and plans to replace it with civil rights activist Barbara Rose Johns. 

Each U.S. state is allowed to place two statues of people “illustrious for their historic renown” or “distinguished civil or military services” after Congress passed a federal law in the mid-nineteenth century establishing the national collection. 

According to the Architect of the Capitol’s website, 3 million to 5 million people pass through the Capitol collection each year to glance at what are supposed to be the country’s most reputable figures.

Both Davis and George were leaders of the Confederacy, 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, which fought to preserve slavery. Davis later said in a speech to the Mississippi Legislature that if he had the chance to change his past actions about secession, 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.

Federal law allows states to replace the statues in the collection. To change a statue, a majority of lawmakers in both legislative chambers must vote to approve the replacement, and the state is required to pay for the costs of replacing the two statues.

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson III, a Democrat from Natchez, and Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons, a Democrat from Greenville, filed separate resolutions last year to replace statutes of Jefferson Davis and J.Z. George in the U.S Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. But both measures died.