After Robert E. Lee's Removal, Confederate Statues Still Stand in U.S. Capitol

A statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee was quietly removed from the U.S. Capitol overnight Sunday, but statues honoring Confederate leaders and others with racist pasts remain—months after leaders of Congress urged their removal.

"The Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement Monday. "There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country."

Each state is given the opportunity to place two bronze or marble statues of prominent citizens in the U.S. Capitol complex, and it's left to the states to decide when to replace them and who to honor.

House Democrats in July—amid a wave of protests and public outcry over racist statues across the country—attempted to force the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol's public spaces but it didn't receive final approval.

There's been little movement on the effort on the state level since then, leaving statues honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and more than half a dozen others who fought for the Confederacy as honorees.

Jarvis Dortch, now the head of the Mississippi chapter of the ACLU, was previously a member of the state House who repeated proposed legislation to replace the state's statue of James Z. George, a Confederate soldier and politician who signed the Secession Ordinance, most recently filing a proposal this spring that died without a public hearing.

"There was never any type of serious consideration," Dortch told Newsweek Monday. "It just didn't feel like there was an appetite to do it."

Mississippi earlier this year agreed to change its state flag that had included Confederate imagery. Dortch said it's embarrassing that the state won't also abandon its Confederate statues in the Capitol but added that few people in Mississippi are probably aware of them because they aren't confronted with them daily the way they were with the flag.

"For a state as diverse as we are, to say that two Confederate generals represent who we are doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Dortch said. "We have a lot of things to be proud of in Mississippi—We can do so much better."

Last year, Arkansas agreed to swap both of its statues—one honoring U.M. Rose, who was a slave owner and supporter of the Confederacy, and one of James Paul Clarke, a white supremacist who was the state's 18th governor, but that hasn't yet happened as the state works to raise money and have replacement statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates and country singer Johnny Cash made. Both the Rose and Clarke statues have been in the Capitol for nearly 100 years.

The Arkansas governor's office didn't respond to Newsweek's request for comment on the effort.

Virginia didn't wait for its replacement honoring civil rights icon Barbara Johns to be erected.

Virginia's monument to Lee stood in the Capitol for more than a century. The state's other remaining statue, honoring the United State's first president George Washington was placed decades later in 1934.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on Congress' Joint Committee on the Library, has been an outspoken advocate for the removal of the Confederate statues.

"I'm glad the statue of Robert E. Lee is out of the Capitol and on its way to a museum. Remembering our history is quite different than putting on a pedestal someone who defended slavery in armed and traitorous rebellion," she told Newsweek in a statement Monday.

Capitol statues
A statue of John E. Kenna (R), a Confederate soldier from West Virginia and U.S. Senator after the Civil War, is on display in the U.S. Capitol Hall of Columns in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty