ANNAPOLIS — During House and Senate committee hearings Wednesday for a bill to replace the statue of John Hanson in the U.S. Capitol with a statue of Harriet Tubman, one lawmaker suggested that a commission be set up to rotate a set of about five exemplary Marylanders.
Another lawmaker, Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, suggested the state ask Congress to allow Maryland to place Tubman as its third statue in the National Statuary Hall collection, where each state by law has only two.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, said during the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing that he wants to expand the statue debate so that the whole state can participate.
The bill putting Tubman in Statuary Hall, which Delegate Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, had hoped would be a “feel-good, no-cost” accomplishment of the legislature this session, could be slowed by these alternative proposals.
In the House Health and Governmental Operations committee, some legislators suggested a commission to determine whether Charles Carroll, Maryland’s other representative in the collection, should be replaced rather than Hanson. Carroll was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The ideas were met with impassioned resistance by Tubman supporters because they would cause delays.
“It’s excruciating to me to hear that we want to wait. That we want a separate category for African Americans and for women,” said Moonyene Jackson-Amis, a former Easton councilwoman and a Tubman re-enactor. “It is not fair to me as an African-American woman to have two white men representing me. Stand back for a moment and be in my shoes. I want someone to represent me who looks like me.”
The statue of Tubman would be the first of an African-American in the national collection and the tenth of a woman.
Tubman is known to schoolchildren across the nation as an escaped slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad, a network of people helping slaves escape to freedom in the North. She also served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse and scout, and later in life advocated for women’s suffrage and founded a home in New York for poor, elderly former slaves.
Hanson is known to Maryland and early American history buffs as a coordinator of the American Revolution in the state, a delegate in the General Assembly and one of the presidents of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation. He was also a slaveholder, having 10 enslaved people willed to family members upon his death.
The Tubman legislation calls for the governor to set up a fundraising commission to raise the approximately $250,000 it would cost to create the statue and relocate Hanson’s statue to Annapolis. The National Organization for Women and Equal Visibility Everywhere, both involved in the legislation from the beginning, have pledged to raise the funds from individual donors and interested organizations.
The bill, opposed by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., has caused a debate about Maryland history among lawmakers.
One side, Miller’s side, claims that Hanson was the first president of the country now called the United States. The other side, led by bill sponsors such as Lee, claims that Hanson’s role was largely ceremonial and only lasted a year.
Hanson’s descendants have populated Maryland’s political scene for generations, including current state Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles, and former Maryland House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe.