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Speaker of the House orders portraits of past speakers removed due to racism

Portraits that honour former House speakers who served the Confederacy were ordered to be taken down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC
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Portraits that honour former House speakers who fought in the US Civil War for the Confederacy were ordered to be taken down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, according to WGN9 News.

Pelosi said the halls of Congress are “the very heart of our democracy,? adding, “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honour for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.?

Pelosi wrote a letter to the house clerk demanding the immediate removal of the portraits of Robert Hunter of Virginia, James Orr of South Carolina, Howell Cobb and Charles Crisp, the latter two are both from Georgia. They are all former Speakers of the US House of Representatives.

Hunter served as Speaker from 1839 to 1841, and went on to become a senator before joining the cabinet of Confederate president Jefferson Davies as Secretary of State. Orr was a member of the Confederate senate, prior to which he was speaker from 1857 to 1859. Cobb was speaker from 1849 to 1851, and Crisp was a young Englishman who became lieutenant in a Confederate unit, went on to be held as a prisoner of war, and was speaker from 1891-1895.

These former speakers served in the Confederacy and as such the current speaker feels strongly that they should not be remembered either for their position or for their crimes. Their portraits have been removed from the House.

Pelosi derided the men in her letter demanding the removal of the portraits, saying that while he was speaker, Orr's position was to “preserve and perpetuate” slavery in order to “enjoy our property in peace, quiet and security.”

Pelosi noted also that Friday is Juneteenth, the day that signifies the day that enslaved people were made aware of their liberation from bondage in 1865, two years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

She linked the removal of these public art works to the anniversary and the current US climate of civil unrest. The day is “a beautiful and proud celebration of freedom for African Americans,” she wrote. She noted that this year's Juneteenth is occurring “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.”

Pelosi also pressed for the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol a few weeks earlier, in addition to calling for US military bases that are named after Confederate Army officers to be renamed.

Last year, Juneteenth spurred Pelosi to call for "the establishment of a commission that would develop proposals and a 'national apology' to repair the lingering effects of slavery."

Many countries in North America and Europe are reviewing their histories and there is much debate around removing statues of controversial historical figures. Several statues of Christopher Columbus have already been removed as well as some of Confederate generals. Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were also vandalized.

In Canada, a statue of Sir. John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister was removed from in front of city hall, in Victoria, B.C. Now, a similar debate surrounds a statue of MacDonald that is located in downtown Montreal. However Montreal's mayor Valerie Plante say she intends to keep it. Plante suggested adding an additional plaque to the statue that discusses MacDonald's mistreatment of Canada's First Nations people.

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