Pelosi Orders Removal of Confederate Portraits in Capitol

June 18, 2020 by Dan McCue
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday ordered the removal of four portraits in the Capitol of previous House Speakers who served in the Confederacy.

The move is the latest in her effort to expunge honorifics for Confederate figures from the Capitol complex. Last week, the speaker called for the removal of 11 Confederate statues displayed in the Statuary Hall collection.

“Tomorrow, Americans will mark Juneteenth, a beautiful and proud celebration of freedom for African Americans,” Pelosi said in a letter to Cheryl Johnson, clerk of the House of Representatives.

“Very sadly, this day comes during a moment of extraordinary national anguish, as we grieve for the hundreds of Black Americans killed by racial injustice and police brutality, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others,” she wrote.

“To appropriately observe Juneteenth this year, I write today to request the immediate removal of the portraits in the U.S. Capitol of four previous speakers who served in the Confederacy: Robert Hunter of Virginia (1839-1841), Howell Cobb of Georgia (1849-1851), James Orr of South Carolina (1857-1859), and Charles Crisp of Georgia (1891-1895).”

All four did indeed play significant roles in the Civil War.

Cobb was one of the founders of the Confederacy, having served as the president of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. It was during the Congress that delegates of the Southern slave states declared that they had seceded from the United States and created the Confederate States of America.

Hunter, a U.S. senator at the outbreak of the war, became the confederacy’s first secretary of state, and later served as Confederate senator after becoming a critic of President Jefferson Davis.

He later sought to make a political comeback in the north, which failed, and he lived out his days as a port customs collector.

After the confederate attack on Fort Sumter and the outbreak of the American Civil War, Orr organized and commanded Orr’s Regiment of South Carolina Rifles. He later resigned that post and entered the Confederate Senate, where he served as chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs and Rules committees.

In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Orr as minister to Russia in a gesture of post-Civil War reconciliation, but Orr died shortly after arriving in St. Petersburg.

Of the four, Charles Crisp’s involvement with the Confederacy came years before he was elected to the House to represent Georgia,

Crisp was temporarily living in Virginia with his parents when the Civil War broke out and he immediately enlisted in a local unit, Company K of the 10th Virginia Infantry, fighting alongside Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in some of the war’s harshest battles.

He was eventually captured and became a prisoner of war at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Crisp was elected to Congress in 1882 and served until his death in 1896.

In her letter to Johnson, Pelosi reiterated her belief that “the halls of Congress are the very heart of our democracy.” 

“There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” she wrote. “We cannot honor men such as James Orr, who swore on the House Floor to ‘preserve and perpetuate’ slavery in order to ‘enjoy our property in peace, quiet and security,’ or Robert Hunter, who served at nearly every level of the Confederacy, including in the Confederate Provincial Congress, as Confederate secretary of state, in the Confederate Senate and in the Confederate Army. The portraits of these men are symbols that set back our nation’s work to confront and combat bigotry.”

“Our Congressional community has the sacred opportunity and obligation to make meaningful change to ensure that the halls of Congress reflect our highest ideals as Americans. Let us lead by example,” Pelosi said.

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