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California in Congress

Rep. Barbara Lee proposes legislation to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

On the heels of a clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Virginia last month, Rep. Barbara Lee wants statues of Confederate heroes removed from the U.S. Capitol.

The Oakland Democrat filed legislation Thursday that would require that all statues of people who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America be removed from the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) filed similar legislation in the Senate, which is co-sponsored by California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris.

Furor over the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces grew after a protest about a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., became violent.

Each state is allowed to place two statues of state figures in the United States' National Statuary Hall Collection, and about 10 statues from Southern states depict men who were Confederate soldiers or generals.

Under Lee and Booker's legislation, states could reclaim the statues if they pay the shipping costs and are welcome to send a replacement.

“Having these monuments in Statuary Hall really doesn’t tell the story of my ancestors, of men who wanted to keep my ancestors in chains. The story needs to be told,” she said.

Lee said she hopes the statues would be placed in museums, where they can be contextualized.

“They don’t belong in public spaces where we honor and celebrate men who wanted to keep slavery in existence,” she said.

Shortly after the Charlottesville melee in which a woman was killed, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) urged House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to remove the statues.

A spokesman for Ryan told Politico last month that GOP leadership thinks the states should make the decision to remove a statue, an indication that the legislation faces an uphill battle in Congress.

Starting in 2000, some states, including California, have chosen to remove their statues, frequently in order to replace them with more contemporary or well-known figures. 

California's current statues are of President Ronald Reagan and Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra.

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