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A nod to D.C.: House OKs Frederick Douglass statue in Capitol

September 10, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • This bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, by sculptor Steven Weitzman, may soon find a place in the U.S. Capitol.
This bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, by sculptor Steven… (Weitzman Studios )

WASHINGTON-- The District of Columbia is about to get a bit more respect, if not statehood, with Congress poised to approve the placement of a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a one-time district resident, in the U.S. Capitol.

The House on Monday voted to add Douglass to the Capitol’s collection of statues, a popular tourist attraction that features likenesses of noteworthy figures from each state. The Senate is expected to give its approval soon.

The move would help diversify a collection of more than 180 statues and busts, scattered through the corridors of the Capitol and visitor center, that now includes only two African Americans: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth.

"I’m afraid that too many young people today don’t know the story of Frederick Douglass,’’ Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, told colleagues Monday, suggesting that the statute would generate new interest in the former slave’s story and his contributions.

Approval of the statue is welcome news to the district, which has long complained about its lack of a vote in Congress, with license plates featuring "Taxation without representation’’ and calls for renaming Pennsylvania Avenue to, perhaps, Free D.C. Avenue or  Let D.C. Vote Way.

The district's 600,000 residents pay federal taxes and can vote for president, but they have a nonvoting delegate in the House and no representation in the Senate. Legislation to provide for "the admission of the state of New Columbia into the Union" has languished in Congress. 

Under the legislation, a bronze statue of Douglass, created by Steven Weitzman of Maryland and now in a D.C. government building, would be moved to the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The statue depicts the abolitionist, whose one-time home near the Capitol is a national historic site, standing next to a lectern delivering a speech while clutching a paper. 

Lungren, who joined Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting delegate in the House, in sponsoring the legislation, noted Douglass was the first African American to receive a vote in presidential convention balloting -- at the 1888 Republican convention.

"I would repeat that: the Republican National Convention,’’ Lungren said.

"In considering the remarkable achievements of Frederick Douglass and his contributions to our rich history, his presence within the U.S. Capitol will honor this institution and serve as testimony to this nation’s struggle for freedom and equality,’’ Lungren added.

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richard.simon@latimes.com   

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