Statues of two former Illinois leaders with ties to slavery will be removed from outside the state capitol building in Springfield.
The board of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol voted unanimously Wednesday to place the statues Stephen A. Douglas and Pierre Menard in storage. However, that won’t happen overnight.
“We’ve actually already started to reach out to some contractors. We believe we can get this done in the next two to three months,” said Andrea Aggertt, who serves as the capitol architect.
The board members, representing each of the four legislative caucuses, acted on a request the Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan made this summer. He issued a statement, in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd and removal of Confederate symbols across the country.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan this summer made a request to take away the statues of U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas and the first Lieutenant Governor Pierre Menard.
“While reading Sidney Blumenthal’s book ‘All the Powers of Earth’ concerning the pre-Civil War period a few months ago, I learned of Stephen Douglas’ disturbing past as a Mississippi slave owner and his abhorrent words toward people of color. I advised my staff to research and confirm the history to support removing the Douglas portrait from the House chamber," Madigan said in a written statement. "I became more resolute in my decision to remove the Douglas portrait as we witnessed the tragic killing of George Floyd, and the bravery of so many who have stood up and spoken out against injustice that has never been fully addressed."
Another statue of Douglas, located inside, will remain for now while a study is done on all capitol artwork. Madigan has also taken action to cover a portrait of Douglas in the Illinois House chamber. It will be replaced by one featuring former President Barack Obama, who served as a legislator in the building.
Douglas, known as the “Little Giant”, defeated Abraham Lincoln in the 1858 U.S. Senate race, known for the historic series of debates across Illinois. He advocated popular sovereignty, calling for each territory to decide if slavery should be allowed within. He was a Democratic Party nominee for president in 1860, an election won by the Republican Lincoln.
Menard served as the state’s first lieutenant governor. The statue in question features him standing over a Native American.
The board also agreed a statue of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Junior, now across the street, will eventually be moved to a more prominent spot on the statehouse grounds, as per another Madigan request. Board members said require changing a rule that says statues must have a direct connection to Illinois.
One member, Scott Kaiser, assistant secretary of the Senate and representing Senate Republicans, raised the possibility of a new monument honoring King. He said the current one is a “poor rendering.”
Senate President Don Harmon, a Democrat, issued a response after the board's vote. “The decision to remove these statues and give Dr. King’s statue a rightful place on the Capitol grounds is certainly a step in the right direction. It is also the beginning of what I hope to be a longer conversation about how we can do better to accurately represent our state’s past. I thank members of our caucus for bringing these concerns to light.”