ANNAPOLIS ? Supporters of a bill to replace a statue of Maryland legislator John Hanson with a statue of Harriet Tubman in the U.S. Capitol are now looking for a better piece of real estate for the former slave and abolitionist.
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee is sending the legislation to the floor of the Senate with amendments to request that the U.S. Congress make an exception to the rule that each state get only two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, or to find a suitably prominent location for Tubman.
Hanson’s statue is located in a connecting corridor, which the bill’s advocates say is not easily accessible to the general public.
“I have an objection to putting Harriet Tubman where you can’t see her,” said committee Chair Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and a sponsor of the bill. “I would prefer her to have a prominent place.”
The debate surrounding the removal of a statue of Hanson, who was the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1781, stirred up impassioned debate in the General Assembly, where Hanson’s descendents have had a presence for generations, including current Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat.
The proposal has been opposed staunchly by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. and others who feel Tubman should be honored without moving Hanson.
The only committee member to oppose Thursday’s amendment, Vice-Chair Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, said that Congress would not make an exception for Tubman, but that he would write a letter to Congress as a former member asking that they find a place for Tubman in the Capitol.
“She should be in there for all she has done,” Dyson said.
Linda Mahoney, the president of the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, is also opposed to the amendment.
“It seems to me that this amendment goes back to the idea that we should have a separate and unequal place for women and minorities,” said Mahoney, whose organization has been a driving force behind the legislation. “The point of the legislation was to improve the balance of representation in Statuary Hall.”
Statuary Hall was established in the old House of Representatives chamber in 1864 as a space for each state to commemorate two exemplary citizens. In 1933, Congress passed legislation that allowed for relocation of the statues that were crowding the chamber, sometimes three-deep against the wall, to other spaces throughout the building, according to the website of the Architect of the Capitol.
Congress passed legislation in 2000 that would allow states to replace their representative statues, acknowledging that the original figures may have been eclipsed by the accomplishments of more recent citizens. Some states, including California, Alabama and Kansas have replaced statues or are in the process of doing so.
Maryland is represented by Hanson and Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Both statues were installed at the Capitol in 1903.
The unamended bill to switch the statues has support from Gov. Martin O’Malley and groups like the National Organization for Women and the NAACP, as well as the Legislative Black Caucus and the women’s caucus. Thursday’s amendment could create a compromise that will get the bill through the Senate, where Conway expects it to be heard as early as next week.