Statehouse statues slated to go

Board votes to put Douglas and Menard in storage

click to enlarge Caption: The statue of Stephen A. Douglas that is slated for removal is in a prominent position outside the visitor's entrance of the Illinois Capitol. - PHOTO BY RACHEL OTWELL
Photo by Rachel Otwell
Caption: The statue of Stephen A. Douglas that is slated for removal is in a prominent position outside the visitor's entrance of the Illinois Capitol.

Statues of Illinois figures who profited from slavery will be removed from the Statehouse lawn. The decision was made when the Office of the Architect of the Capitol board voted unanimously for statues of Stephen Douglas and Pierre Menard to be removed and put in storage. Andrea Aggertt, Capitol architect, said discussions with contractors are underway and the plan is to put the statues in secure storage by winter. "We'd want to move as fast as we can," she told reporters.

Two other motions were also approved during the Aug. 19 meeting. One will have the office undergo a review of all murals, artwork and statues on the Capitol grounds to assess and make potential changes. "Hopefully we could get that reviewed again, as we're supposed to already do, and then provide a little bit more detail about the history of the statues," said John Hollman, clerk of the Illinois House and the board member to introduce the motions.

The third motion would change a rule stating statues on the Statehouse grounds must be Illinois-centric. That would mean a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. that's currently across the street from the Capitol could move to the Statehouse grounds. Some have called for the statue to be restored or redone entirely, a sentiment echoed at the meeting. "No offense to whoever did it, but I just think that's a poor rendering of Dr. King, and I think we could do better. ... At some point I think we should consider having that one redone," said Scott Kaiser, assistant secretary of the Illinois Senate.

Brad Bolin, assistant clerk of the Illinois House, suggested a "comprehensive public discussion to review any decision making so this board is not acting ... without public input." The decision to remove the two statues comes after House Speaker Michael Madigan released a statement July 9 stating he wanted them to go.

Robert Moore is a retired U.S. marshal and was president of the Springfield Frontiers International club when in 1992 it successfully lobbied then Secretary of State George Ryan to move the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. from the back of the Capitol grounds to its current position. Moore still favors the current location. The Frontiers club is a service-oriented group that advocates social and racial justice. It hosts an annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in Springfield. In recent days, the club has again worked with the Secretary of State's office to have tree branches around the statue trimmed, a bench installed, and flowers added. Moore said he hopes for further upkeep to the statue itself "in the very near future."

Moore said he disagrees with the board's decision to proceed with relocating the Martin Luther King Jr. statue and said Springfield residents, such as himself, should be consulted. He said he was unaware of the meeting and he questioned the makeup of the four-member board – consisting of white men who hold legislative staff positions. "We see no diversity on that board," he said.

Vincent "June" Chappelle, a board member for the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum and Black resident of Springfield, said the removal of the statues of Menard and Douglas is a good first step in rethinking representation at the Capitol. "I'm excited for my ancestors," he said. "This was a change that needed to happen in order for us to feel included, in order for us to feel cared about, in order for us to feel seen." Chappelle and Moore were part of a roundtable discussion about the statues hosted by Illinois Times in late July.

The statue of Pierre Menard, Illinois' first lieutenant governor and a fur trader who owned slaves, shows him looking down on a Native American. The imagery is done in a white supremacist fashion, scholar James Loewen told Illinois Times. The son of Menard's business partner paid for the statue and it was placed on the lawn in 1886.

A second statue of Douglas, an Illinois lawyer and opponent of Abraham Lincoln in the presidential race of 1860, is inside the Capitol building. Douglas had profited from a plantation in Mississippi. It's unclear what will become of that statue.

Contact Rachel Otwell at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

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