"Feel-Good" Tubman Statue Bill Shelved, For Now

Capital News Service
Thursday, April 14, 2011


ANNAPOLIS -- When the 2011 session started in January, Delegate Susan Lee called her bill to place a statue of Harriet Tubman in the U.S. Capitol a "feel-good, no cost" piece of legislation.


Advocates felt they were "on the right side of history."


Ninety days later, the bill has been amended and then shelved.


That's because the "feel-good" bill wasn't so feel-good for all members of the General Assembly. The proposal would have removed a statue of John Hanson, a Revolution-era planter and statesman from the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington in order to make room for Tubman.


Some members, especially Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., felt that moving Hanson to Annapolis would be dishonoring his legacy.


Hanson was president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. Miller and others feel that as a national figure Hanson belongs in the national Capitol.


"Virginia and other states can claim former presidents as one-time residents - we never could," said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary's, vice-chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. "Our only claim to fame is John Hanson. That's our only connection. It would be a shame to take it out of there."


Tubman, a former slave born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is widely known for her role in guiding slaves to freedom in the North through the Underground Railroad. She served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a scout and nurse, and advocated for women's rights and education of former slaves after the war.


Tubman would be the 10th woman, and first African-American, represented in the collection of 100 statues.


In order to make changes in Statuary Hall, where each state has two statues representing historical figures, legislatures have to send a request to Congress, which approves the swap. Other states have changed statues since the process was put in place in 2000, including California and Alabama.


The Tubman bill was amended in committee to propose that Maryland ask Congress for an exception, allowing Tubman as a third statue. The amended bill was approved in the Senate but never voted on in the House.


Lynette Long, founder of Equal Visibility Everywhere, a group working to honor more women with statues and other symbols, said that Miller, Dyson, and Hanson descendant Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, D-Charles, used the amendment to kill the bill. Long said advocates will try to pass the bill next session with more support and more awareness of the issue.


"They knew that it would be impossible to get Maryland a third statue," Long said. "It's outrageous what they've done."


Capital News Service's Kerry Davis contributed to this report.


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