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Pelosi orders removal of four portraits of Confederate House speakers from Capitol

"There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress ... for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy," she said.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference with Capitol Hill reporters in Washington
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at her weekly news conference at the Capitol on Thursday, June 18, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday announced that she has ordered the removal of portraits of four House speakers who served in the Confederacy that are on display at the Capitol.

“There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” she wrote in a letter to Cheryl Johnson, clerk of the House of Representatives, released Thursday.

In the letter, Pelosi requested the immediate removal of the portraits of Robert Hunter of Virginia who served as House speaker from 1839 to 1841; Howell Cobbs of Georgia (1849 to 1851); James Orr of South Carolina (1857 to 1859); and Charles Crisp of Georgia (1891 to 1895).

"We cannot honor men such as James Orr, who swore on the House Floor to 'preserve and perpetuate' slavery in order to 'enjoy our property in peace, quiet and security,' or Robert Hunter, who served at nearly every level of the Confederacy, including in the Confederate Provincial Congress, as Confederate Secretary of State, in the Confederate Senate and in the Confederate Army,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. "The portraits of these men are symbols that set back our nation's work to confront and combat bigotry."

Pelosi said that she made the request ahead of Friday's Juneteenth holiday, which celebrates the end of slavery for African Americans, and amid "a moment of extraordinary national anguish" in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

The speaker said during her weekly press conference Thursday that she and her team were unaware that the portraits existed inside the Capitol until "we were taking inventory of the statues and the curator told us" about the four paintings of the Confederate speakers.

Pelosi’s request comes a week after she said that the names of Confederate leaders must be removed from American military bases and the statues of these men must be taken out of the U.S. Capitol.

She wrote a letter to the Joint Committee on the Library, which oversees statues in the U.S. Capitol, calling for the removal of Confederate statues from the building because they are a "grotesque affront" to American ideals and "pay homage to hate, not heritage." Pelosi had pushed, unsuccessfully, for the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol after the events in Charlottesville in 2017, calling on then-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to join Democrats in demanding their immediate removal.