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Congress OKs Statue of Frederick Douglass for Capitol

After a five-year battle, Congress cleared legislation Wednesday evening that would allow the District of Columbia to display a statue of abolitionist and one-time D.C. resident Frederick Douglass under the Capitol Dome.

Now it’s just a matter of making time to hold an unveiling.

All 50 states are allowed to have two statues displayed in the Capitol, but legislation was required for an exception to be made for D.C. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and passed by both chambers this week, gives the bipartisan and bicameral Joint Committee on the Library two years from the date of enactment to designate a location and prepare to receive the statue.

It probably won’t take that long, though there is no timetable in place. Lungren told Roll Call today that he was hoping for the committee, in coordination with the Architect of the Capitol, to schedule an unveiling “as soon as practically possible.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who sponsored companion legislation and serves as chairman of the Library panel, would also like to expedite the process, an aide said today.

But with the crowded legislative agenda between now and the end of the session, there might not be time before January.

Scheduling a ceremony in the Capitol, which typically accompanies the official unveiling of a new statue, requires the House and Senate to pass a concurrent resolution — not controversial, but a maneuver that can take up time at a busy time of year.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a member of the joint committee, said there was a “reasonable possibility” that Congress could work something out before the session ends, but he also conceded that timing was tight.

Still, the legislation passed this week promises that D.C. will ultimately be represented among the other statues in the Capitol.

The city commissioned the Douglass statue to present to the Capitol as a gift, and it was completed by architect Steven Weitzman seven years ago. It’s been displayed at Judiciary Square for five years while awaiting Congressional action.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has since that time been pushing for a bill that would place the Douglass statue alongside one of D.C.’s first city planner, Pierre L’Enfant. But she said in a statement today that she was gratified by this first step.

“Not only will the Douglass statue pay tribute to one of the nation’s greatest human rights heroes, it will bring one of D.C.’s two statues into the Capitol,” she said.