Updated 10:05 a.m. with comments from Adams and Burgess
The House of Representatives spent its legislative day Tuesday naming nine post offices. Only one generated any opposition: A proposal, from Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), to name a post office in Winston-Salem, N.C., for the late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
The bill honoring Angelou, famed for her autobiographical works and her recital at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, passed overwhelmingly but not unanimously. Nine members, all Republicans, opposed the honor: Mo Brooks (Ala.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Michael Burgess (Texas), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), Glenn Grothman (Wis.), Andy Harris (Md.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.) and Steven Palazzo (Miss.).
Only Grothman discussed his opposition on the House floor: “I think people should investigate Maya Angelou a little bit, and I’ll suggest perhaps if you want to investigate a little bit further that perhaps you Google ‘Maya Angelou’ and look at other articles in places like the American Thinker or the American Spectator.”
Both of those conservative publications wrote short articles on the occasion of Angelou’s 2014 death to bemoan, among other things, her embrace of radical leftist politics in the 1960s — including sympathies for Fidel Castro and interactions with Malcolm X.
In her memoir The Heart of a Woman, Angelou wrote about joining a crowd greeting Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev as he met Castro at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa in 1960: “[A]s black people often said, ‘Wasn’t no Communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery. Wasn’t no Communist lynched my poppa or raped my mamma.'”
Three of the lawmakers responded to requests for comment; all mentioned her support of Castro.
Brooks’s office provided this statement: “While Maya Angelou did many good things in her life, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) did not believe it appropriate to name an American Post Office after a communist sympathizer and thereby honor a person who openly opposed America’s interest by supporting Fidel Castro and his regime of civil rights suppression, torture and murder of freedom-loving Cubans.”
Harris’s spokeswoman, Shelby Hodgkins, said this: “Congressman Harris voted against the Maya Angelou post office naming because she was a communist sympathizer. His parents escaped communism and he feels that he cannot vote to name a post office in the United States in honor of someone who supported the communist Castro revolution in Cuba. Who’s next to get a post office? Jane Fonda?”
And Burgess provided this statement: “Congress has more important things to be doing rather than spending time naming post offices. It has been my experience in the past that these post office namings have been used to honor and remember young men and women who have lost their lives fighting for our country. Yesterday, I was asked to vote to name a post office for a pro-Castro and pro-communist individual and I could not support that.”
The Republican lawmakers’ decision to oppose the Angelou naming prompted a rebuke from a top House Democrat. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said he was “shocked” by the slap at “one of our country’s greatest poets, authors and civil rights activists.”
“The fact that these nine Members would cast a no vote shows a blatant disrespect and only adds to the damaging actions they’ve taken this year to reverse progress from long and hard fought civil rights battles,” he said.
Adams said in a statement that she was “disappointed” by the opposition: “These nine Republicans chose to blatantly disrespect an extraordinary woman who worked to crush gender and racial barriers in our country. In true Maya Angelou fashion, I believe when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Their actions are yet another painful addition to radical Republican obstructionism.”
Another GOP congressman, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, voted present — to protest the fact that there was even a vote at all.
Matthew N. Shuckerow, Young’s spokesman, said the present vote was meant to express Young’s sentiment that the Angelou post-office naming “should have been expedited by a voice vote given its overwhelming support” — just like seven other post office namings handled Tuesday. Shuckerow said Young was pulled away from meetings with constituents who had flown 5,000 miles to Washington, as well as from a committee hearing featuring an Alaskan witness.
“Congressman Young quietly expressed his objection to these delays on the House floor with a present vote,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified which state Palazzo is from. He is from Mississippi.