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For many years now, state legislatures have been sending commemorative sculptures to the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. Initially the statues, two from each state, filled the old House chamber (now National Statuary Hall); then they flowed out through the central corridors of the Capitol. More recently, some of the newer additions moved to the Capitol Visitor Center, many in the central Emancipation Hall, where they greet employees and tourists alike. Other statues have been added to the general collection at Congress’ behest.

Similarly, for many years the District of Columbia has been fighting for more autonomy from Congressional control, oversight, or whims (depending on your take on the battle). To DC residents working for more independence and a greater voice in the federal government they host in their city, Congressional refusal to accept District-donated statues was just another item on a long list of slights.

Congress has two years to move Steven Weitzman’s portrayal of Frederick Douglass to the Capitol. (Weitzman Studios, Inc.)

This month, however, Congress passed a bill welcoming Frederick Douglass to the congressional collection. The District will be represented by one statue in the general collection and placed in Emancipation Hall, not two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection as states are. The addition increases African American representation in the Capitol’s art collection; currently, busts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth comprise the entirety of African American sculptural presence in the Capitol complex. Congress’ acceptance of the Douglass portrayal also opens the door for US territories to argue that they can place a statue in the Capitol.

The legislation, sponsored by Dan Lungren (CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) in the House and Chuck Schumer (NY) in the Senate, focuses on Douglass’ significance in American history, from his escape from slavery (as discussed in his autobiography) to his work with abolition and woman suffrage forces to his support of the Union during the Civil War and his later years as a federal employee. Norton has noted that she will fight to place a second statue, Pierre L’Enfant, in the Capitol to represent DC.

If you could nominate someone to represent your state, district, or territory in the Capitol, who would you choose and why?

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