SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Denouncing “symbols of hate,” Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) announced his intention on Thursday to remove the statueS of former U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas and former Lieutenant Governor Pierre Menard from the Illinois Capitol grounds.
Citing his “disturbing past as a Mississippi slave owner and his abhorrent words toward people of color,” Speaker Madigan called for the removal of Douglas’ statue from the front steps of the Capitol, and said his portrait that hangs inside the House Chamber should be replaced with one of former President Barack Obama.
Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) echoed a similar sentiment.
“Stephen Douglas’ role in Illinois history does not warrant commemoration today with a statue on the statehouse grounds,” Harmon said through a spokesman.
“I believe it’s a good time to review exactly who’s being honored and why in both the Capitol Building and on the surrounding grounds, and then make some changes.”
The Office of the Architect board would have to vote to remove the Douglas statue outside the statehouse.
A spokesman for Speaker Madigan said the statues in the rotunda are maintained by Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, but Madigan and Harmon have both called for a review of other paintings and statues that decorate the inside of the statehouse.
President Donald Trump has railed against the removal of statues from federal property, threatening to crack down with stiff criminal penalties on anyone who would deface or vandalize them. He has also fought against a push to remove the names of Confederate generals from American military bases located mostly in the south.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union last Sunday, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) criticized President Trump’s culture wars over statues, saying he “spent more time worried about honoring dead Confederates than he did talking about the lives of our American — 130,000 Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19, or by warning Russia off of the bounty they’re putting on Americans’ heads.”
Dana Bash, the CNN anchor, asked Duckworth if statues of George Washington should also come down because he owned slaves.
“Well, let me just say that we should start off by having a national dialogue on it at some point,” Duckworth responded.
Now, that dialogue has found new life in her home state, where a portrait of George Washington sits just feet away from a statue of Douglas.
Madigan also addressed President Trump’s argument that removing statues erases American history.
“Of course, removing these images does not erase our history,” Madigan said, “but it is one more step in acknowledging the suffering of so many and committing to creating a better Illinois for everyone.”
Statement from Speaker Madigan
House Speaker Michael J. Madigan released the following statement Thursday:
“While reading Sidney Blumenthal’s book ‘All the Powers of Earth’ concerning the pre-Civil War period a few months ago, I learned of Stephen Douglas’ disturbing past as a Mississippi slave owner and his abhorrent words toward people of color. I advised my staff to research and confirm the history to support removing the Douglas portrait from the House chamber. I became more resolute in my decision to remove the Douglas portrait as we witnessed the tragic killing of George Floyd and the bravery of so many who have stood up and spoken out against injustice that has never been fully addressed.
“So today, I am taking the first important step of removing this unnecessary reminder of our country’s painful past. When the Illinois House returns in the fall, I will offer a resolution to be voted on by the House to authorize removal of the Douglas portrait and be replaced with a portrait of President Barack Obama, a more fitting representation of the modern-day Democratic Party. In the meantime, I am looking into ways the portrait can be covered immediately.
“Memorializing people and a time that allowed slavery and fostered bigotry and oppression has no place in the Illinois House, where the work of all Illinoisans is conducted. We can only move forward in creating a more just world when these symbols of hate are removed from our everyday lives.
“I am calling for the removal of the Douglas and Pierre Menard statues from the Capitol grounds, as well as moving the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. to a location of more prominence and honor. I ask that the Office of the Architect move expeditiously on this matter to take a vote in the coming days to remove these statues. Further, I am asking the Office and its board to work with all Illinoisans to conduct a thorough review of all statues, portraits and symbols on the Capitol grounds to ensure any inappropriate fixtures are removed and all feel welcome.
“Of course, removing these images does not erase our history, but it is one more step in acknowledging the suffering of so many and committing to creating a better Illinois for everyone.”