ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of a bill to replace a statue of Maryland founder John Hanson in the U.S. Capitol with a statue of Harriet Tubman are saying opponents are too emotionally attached to the status quo.
Led by Del. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, supporters of the bill held a press conference Tuesday, calling Tubman “a hero of courage” deserving of “a place in the sun.” Lee, the president of the women’s caucus, is sponsoring the bill in the House of Delegates.
“We are in a political fight,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County. “This is an emotional issue for people who are accustomed to the status quo … We can’t stay stuck in the colonial period, we can’t stay stuck with just one gender represented.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley is supporting the bill, along with a host of community and advocacy groups from around Maryland.
Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, and chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, has introduced the bill in the senate, but will not find an ally in Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Pugh said some legislators may take Miller’s views into consideration as they make their decisions, but that others would push back against his influence.
Miller has called the effort to swap statues “insane.” He considers Hanson, a Charles County planter and the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, to be the first president of the United States.
Miller could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Hanson statue, accompanied in representing Maryland by a statue of Charles Carroll, has been in the nation’s Capitol since 1903.
Each state has two statues in the collection, and in 2000 Congress passed legislation allowing states to update their representative statues.
California recently swapped out its statue of Thomas Starr King with a new statue of Ronald Reagan, and Alabama replaced its statue of Confederate officer Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry with a statue of Helen Keller. Five other states are in the process of updating statues.
Supporters say that Statuary Hall is not meant to be a static tribute to American history, but an evolving memorial to influential figures, as evidenced by the legislation passed in Congress.
Maryland representatives will weigh the importance and legacy of two historical citizens as they decide who should represent the state in Washington.
Hanson was a Maryland representative and patriot during the Revolutionary War who helped to shape the new nation. Tubman was an escaped slave who led other slaves north on the Underground Railroad, then served as a nurse and scout during the Civil War.
Elbridge James, a civil rights activist, said that opponents of the bill “continue recognizing historical figures because they’ve always been there” and not because they are more deserving of a place in the Capitol.