The likenesses of music legend Johnny Cash and civil rights icon Daisy Lee Gatson Bates will appear in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol in marble form, replacing two figures from the Civil War.
Last week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a measure to swap out the statues of individuals from the 19th century for more modern representations of the state.
The current statues of Uriah Milton Rose, an attorney who sided with the Confederacy, and James P. Clarke, a governor of the state who held racist beliefs, are not being removed because of their controversial past, but rather because of a decision by the state “to update the statues with representatives of our more recent history,” Hutchinson said in a weekly address. The statues of Rose and Clarke have been in the Capitol for nearly 100 years, he said.
Details of the swap were first reported by Roll Call.
But the debate that swept the nation a few years ago over whether to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces has also played out on Capitol Hill, where several states have statues of Confederates. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been one of the more high-profile lawmakers to call for the removal of statues that honor the era of slavery.
“There is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country,” she said in 2017.
The decision is ultimately up to each state. Each is allowed to send two statues to line the hallways of the Capitol building.
Cash, the esteemed country music artist with crossover appeal, hailed from Arkansas. Some state lawmakers were opposed to using Cash to represent the state in Washington because of his troubled past, according to the Arkansas Times.
“Mr. Cash is a great musician . . . but the drugs, the alcohol, the women, that kind of thing . . . no, I can’t hold him up to my children as a model,” state Rep. Doug House (R) said.
But eventually the measure passed.
Bates played an integral role in the desegregation of schools in Arkansas, including guiding the African American children known as the Little Rock Nine as they attempted to enroll in an all-white school.
“The history of the civil rights struggle in Arkansas is an essential part of our story that says much about courage and who we are as a state. Daisy Bates was a key person in that story. She continues to inspire us,” Hutchinson said.
“Music is a big deal in Arkansas, and Johnny Cash is a big deal in music,” he continued. “Those two great historic figures who made such a difference in Arkansas in their own way are appropriate people to tell part of the story of Arkansas in our nation’s capitol.”