Confederate monuments have once again become focal points for protests and unrest following a violent white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville.
Most of the controversy has centered on the presence of confederate monuments in cities and states, such as the one protesters tore down Monday night in Durham, N.C. But monuments to the confederacy are well-represented at the federal level as well, particularly in the U.S. Capitol.
Consider this: In the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection there are three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex, according to records maintained by the Architect of the Capitol.
The Statuary Hall Collection comprises 100 statues, two from each state. It was created by an act of Congress in 1864 to allow each state to commemorate “deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” Decisions about which individuals to memorialize are made by state legislatures and governors.
It took over a century for the states to fully populate the collection of statues, according to the Architect of the Capitol. Individuals memorialized include presidents, entertainers, soldiers and educators.
Twelve of the statues memorialize individuals who either fought for the Confederacy or were active in Confederate politics. But not a single black American is represented in the Statuary Hall Collection.
In recent decades federal lawmakers sought to address this disconnect. They couldn’t add any statues to the official Statuary Hall Collection — that power was given only to the states. So Congress commissioned its own works of art commemorating African Americans, to be placed alongside the statues in Statuary Hall.