WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) spoke on the House Floor in support of H.R. 7573, legislation he introduced to replace the bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and remove Confederate statues and other reminders of slavery and segregation from the U.S. Capitol. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery and a link to the video.
Click here to watch the video.
“Madam Speaker, the Capitol building is a sacred space for American democracy. It is where we write our laws, inaugurate our presidents, and say a somber farewell to great Americans who earned our respect, like Dwight Eisenhower and Rosa Parks. We cannot erase the difficult history and painful truth that this temple to liberty was built using the labor of enslaved people. But we can do everything in our power to ensure that how we use the Capitol today reflects our commitment to equality and justice for all.
“For too long, we have greeted visitors from here and abroad with statues of those who denigrated these values by championing sedition, slavery, segregation, and inequality. As a Marylander, I have always been uncomfortable that the Old Supreme Court Chamber prominently displays a bust of former Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who was from the district I represent. Taney, of course, was the author of the 1857 Dred Scott ruling that upheld slavery and said African Americans could not be citizens. This was a man who, in his zeal to protect the interests of slaveholders and uphold a system of white supremacy, wrote an opinion that twisted the very meaning of America’s founding.
“After quoting the Declaration of Independence – ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…’ – Taney wrote: ‘the general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But… the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.’ Of course, neither did women.
“In short, Taney argued that in his day, in 1857, people of African descent had come to be seen as human beings, but because our founders in 1776 did not view them as such, Black people could never truly be citizens of the United States. Think about that. The blindness and schizophrenia of 1787 repeated eighty years later in 1857. The past, Taney argued, bound those in the present to follow the errors of their forebears in perpetuity. What he could not or would not accept is that the passage of time allows us the space to grow as individuals, as states, and as a country, so that we may see our faults and correct them.
“In Maryland, we have grappled with the difficult history of our state with regard to slavery and the Civil War. While our state did not secede from the Union, many Marylanders sympathized with slavery and the South and fought for the Confederacy. Early Maryland was built on the profits of slavery, and it sent individuals like Taney to serve in America’s early institutions. Indeed, in his infamous opinion, Taney drew on his home state’s ban on interracial marriage as justification for his views. One of my first votes as a young state legislator in the Maryland State Senate was to strike the miscegenation statute from the lawbooks – 110 years after the Dred Scott decision.
“Maryland today, like other states where slavery and segregation had a long history, is not the same place it was when Taney wrote his opinion. Nor are these states today the same places they were when many of the statues and busts of Confederates and segregationists were sent here to our Capitol during a period of intense and racially charged sectionalism. In recent years, Maryland made the courageous and correct choice to remove a statue of Taney from the grounds of the State House in Annapolis. I strongly supported that decision.
“Removing a statue does not erase history. That act by itself will not make right what was so terribly wrong in the past. But the statues we choose to set in places of honor are a reflection of the present, not the past. They show our fellow Americans and foreign visitors what our values are today. And our decision to remove statues of seditionists, white supremacists, Confederates, and segregationists and replace them with defenders of justice and equality shows that as a country we are capable of critical introspection and growth.
“That’s why I introduced this bill along with Rep. Barbara Lee, Whip Jim Clyburn, Chairwoman Karen Bass, Chairman Bennie Thompson, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Because in the twenty-first century, we must not be Roger Brooke Taney’s America anymore. Nor can we be Jim Crow’s.
“Our bill removes the bust of Chief Justice Taney from the Old Supreme Court Chamber and replaces it with a bust of our nation’s first African-American Justice, Thurgood Marshall – a profound statement of practicing our founding ideals and the perfecting of our union. Thurgood Marshall is the face of our Maryland in 2020, not Roger Taney.
“Second, our bill no longer allows states to display statues in the Capitol of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederacy against our Union during the Civil War.
“And third, there are three specific statues in the collection of individuals who did not serve in the Confederacy but whose careers were built on the perpetuation of white supremacy and segregation. Our bill would require those statues to be removed and replaced as well.
“They do not reflect the diversity and inclusivity of our nation today, nor do they comport with our values as a nation that has reached a greater understanding of the principle, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, that all are ‘created equal.’
“There are still, sadly, a lot of people in our country in 2020 who do not understand that our diversity is our strength or recognize that Black Lives Matter. Taney forcefully argued that they did not. He was willfully wrong. They do. They must.
“I believe that most Americans are deeply distressed by racial injustice and want to see the progress of the Civil Rights Movement continue. They want our nation and our democracy to grow, mature, and become more perfect. Part of that process is making it clear, through our symbols and public displays of honor, what our country stands for and, as importantly, what it must never stand for again.
“So, I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us. Join us in sending this message to our fellow Americans and to the world that we do not glorify racism and bigotry and exclusion in this temple to liberty – and in this land of the free. And I hope our colleagues will join us in making possible and making sure that all Americans, no matter their race, can come to this Capitol and know that they have an equal share in a government that is truly ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.'"