WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday ordered the removal of the portraits of four of her predecessors who served in the Confederacy, a gesture that comes during a national reckoning on issues of racial injustice and police brutality.
Pelosi announced the move during a morning news conference, saying that “we must lead by example”and citing Friday’s celebration of Juneteenth, a day marking the end of slavery in the United States.
“There is no room in the hallowed halls of this democracy, this temple of democracy, to memorialize people who embody violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy,” Pelosi said. “You have to see the remarks that they had made and how oblivious they were to what our founders had in mind in our country.”
The portraits of the four former House speakers hang in the Speaker’s Lobby, an area just off the House floor that serves as a gathering place for congressional events, as well.
Pelosi said she sent a letter to the House clerk directing the removal of the portraits upon discovering the tenure of the individuals while “taking inventory” of statues at the Capitol.
“To appropriately observe Juneteenth this year, I write today to request the immediate removal of the portraits in the U.S. Capitol of four previous Speakers who served in the Confederacy,” Pelosi said in the letter.
The letter named 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).
The last speaker to have his portrait removed from that hallowed historical area was J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who in 2015 pleaded guilty to laundering money to pay off a man he had sexually molested when he was a high school teacher.
During her news conference, Pelosi also touted a sweeping police reform bill, approved by a House committee on Wednesday, that would ban chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants, among other measures.
The bill is being pushed in response to protests across the nation after the May 25 death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police and other instances of police misconduct involving African Americans.