Barbara Lee introduces new bill to remove Confederate statues from US Capitol

Office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee/Courtesy

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Amidst a renewed surge of debate over Confederate monuments, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced a new bill in Congress on Thursday that would require the removal of all Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol within 120 days.

Lee, who serves the East Bay as the representative from California’s 13th district, co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. According to Lee’s spokesperson Tasion Kwamilele, the Confederate Monument Removal Act allows states to claim any of the statues and send any unclaimed statues to the Smithsonian Institution.

“There’s no history that’s told with these statues, period,” Lee said. “No historical value. Put them in a museum, tell the story. What did they do? What are the legacies of that period? … Having [these statues] in statuary halls to honor is not the appropriate place.”

The far-right rallies and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended with three dead and 35 injured, thrust the bill into full swing, Kwamilele said.

Lee stated that although the bill currently has the support of more than 40 co-sponsors, she hopes to get more Republican members of Congress to sign on. Many Republicans have Black constituents in their districts, Lee said, and they could help build momentum by engaging the public.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington stated that tearing down Confederate statues was overdue and added that people should move away from “romanticizing” defenders of slavery.

“If there’s a private person who wants to do something on their private property, they can say what they want and do what they want,” Worthington said. “People are individuals and have free speech rights to say all kinds of horrible things, but government resources being used to send a message is a different thing.”

The bill has been introduced at a time when many public institutions, including UC Berkeley, are reconsidering their affiliation with figures of controversial history. Most recently, several buildings on campus have come under contention, including Le Conte, Barrows and Boalt halls — all having ties to figures with racist pasts.

Jeffery Robinson, a deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, gave a speech Aug. 24 in Seattle on combating systemic racism. Robinson stated that although removing offensive monuments would not solve all of America’s racial problems, it could provoke a dialogue about the uglier parts of America’s history.

While Lee’s proposed bill is limited to Confederate monuments in the Capitol, Worthington said he supported taking a “fresh look” at monuments to figures with racist history, including controversial campus building names.

“I think we know more today than we did 50 to 100 years ago,” Worthington said. “We need to keep up with the times, keep up with our new understanding, and (find) new ways of being sensitive and inclusive of different communities.

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.