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Frederick Douglass Statue Set for Capitol Unveiling

Frederick Douglass will officially take his place in the Capitol on June 19, now that Congress has passed legislation authorizing the use of Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center for the unveiling of the District of Columbia’s statue of the abolitionist and former resident.

Tuesday’s House passage of a concurrent resolution setting the date and time was the final hurdle separating Steven Weitzman’s statue of Douglass, which was commissioned seven years ago, from its Capitol coming-out. The chamber passed the resolution by voice vote under suspension of the rules, following Senate passage on May 16. No presidential signature is necessary for the resolution to take effect.

“D.C. residents chose Douglass to represent them in the Capitol, not only because he is one of the great international icons of human and civil rights, but for us, Douglass is especially important because he was not content to rest on his historic national achievements alone. He knew where he lived and was deeply involved in the civic and political affairs of the District of Columbia,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said on the floor Tuesday.

She said the choice of Douglass reflected D.C. citizens’ attention to issues of self-governance. Such issues have flared on and off in recent years in the District government’s relationship with Congress. Last month, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum that calls for unlinking the local budget from congressional oversight. Congress may choose to rebuff that referendum by pursuing a resolution of disapproval, or through other means.

“In choosing Douglass, it was important to our residents that Douglass also dedicated himself to securing self-government and voting rights for the residents of the District of Columbia. Many Americans may not know that D.C. residents have only rarely had even nonvoting representation in the Congress, or a local government, and even today have no vote on the floor of the House and no senators, although our residents pay federal income taxes like everybody else and fight in all the nation’s wars like everybody else,” Norton continued.

Mayor Vincent Gray echoed Norton’s words on Wednesday in a statement to CQ Roll Call: “We’re delighted that our statue of Frederick Douglass will finally have a place in the Capitol. While we’re thankful, our work to secure the same rights that our fellow citizens across the country enjoy will continue.”

At least on the House floor, there were few objections to such sentiments, nor to the resolution itself, which was sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

In urging support of the resolution, House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said, “In considering the remarkable achievements of Frederick Douglass and his contributions to our rich history, his presence within the United States Capitol will honor this institution and serve as endearing testimony to this nation’s struggle for freedom and for equality.”

The statue was blocked from Capitol placement for years, a victim of rules that stated that only the 50 states can display statues of their favored sons and daughters in the Capitol.

Then last year, the movement to place the statue picked up momentum. President Barack Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill allowing D.C. to display its own statue. House and Senate passage of Schumer’s resolution was the last step to opening the Capitol doors to Douglass.

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