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Advances in American Statues

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One of the most pernicious parts of Civil War memory is how Confederate leaders became part of American iconography, literally in the case of the many statues placed around the South. In the U.S. Capitol, the Statuary Hall grants each state 2 statues to represent figures from its state. Even in Arkansas, the limits of who is acceptable to represent is expanding in useful ways.

Civil rights icon Daisy Gatson Bates and musician Johnny Cash will join the Statuary Hall collection in D.C., replacing 19th-century attorney Uriah Milton Rose and statesman James Paul Clarke. The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, made the plan official by signing a bill last week. 

Both Rose and Clarke were political figures during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Though he opposed secession, Rose was loyal to Arkansas, a Confederate state during the war. Clarke, whose descendants have grappled with his racist views, was a United States senator and governor of the state.

High-profile members of Congress, including Sen. Cory Booker and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have for years pushed to remove Confederate artwork from the Capitol. But historically the decision hasn’t been up to them. Each state gifts two statues to the collection, with state governments deciding who makes the cut.

At least one Arkansan in Washington — Republican Rep. French Hill — praised his state’s new direction.

“Arkansas icons Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash are worthy additions to the U.S. Capitol statue collection. I applaud the decision by Gov. Hutchinson and the General Assembly to recognize their historic contributions and preserve their inspiring legacies for future generations,” Hill said.

Once Rose is gone, 11 sculptures of men with ties to the Confederacy will remain in the Statuary Hall collection.

It’s certainly not that Asa Hutchison or other Arkansas Republicans have repudiated white supremacy and aren’t pushing racist measures today. They most certainly are. But it’s a positive, especially given the overall national climate, that it is no longer acceptable to promote Confederate icons in the state of Arkansas.

Plus, a Johnny Cash statue in the Capitol.

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