Pelosi urges removal of portraits of Confederate House speakers

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested the removal of portraits of previous House speakers who served in the Confederacy from display in the US Capitol.

Pelosi on Thursday made the request in a letter to Cheryl Johnson, clerk of the House of Representatives, a day before Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Tomorrow, Americans will mark Juneteenth,” the California Democrat wrote. “Very sadly, this day comes during a moment of extraordinary national anguish, as we grieve for the hundreds of Black Americans killed by racial injustice and police brutality.”

In the letter, she asked Johnson to remove the portraits of four previous speakers who served in the Confederacy: Robert Hunter of Virginia (1839-1841), Howell Cobb of Georgia (1849-1851), James Orr of South Carolina (1857-1859), and Charles Crisp of Georgia (1891-1895).

House Democrats introduced a bill last week that would remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol.

There are currently 11 statues of people who served in the Confederacy, either as officials or soldiers, displayed in the Capitol complex.

The statues are all part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, created in 1864 with a law that allows states to select two statues of deceased individuals to be displayed in the US Capitol.

The legislation from the Democrats would remove all of the Confederate statues in the collection within 120 days. The statues could either be reclaimed by the states or given to the Smithsonian Institution, a US museum and research complex.

Republicans have argued that Congress cannot remove the statues without passing a new law and indicated that the decision should be left up to the states.

“What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier this week.

The moves came in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protests in response to Floyd’s death, and more broadly to police violence, spread across the United States, as congressional lawmakers and states are pushing for police reforms.