CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is calling for the removal of the likenesses of slave owners Stephen Douglas and Pierre Menard from the grounds of the state capitol.
Madigan announced Thursday, when the Illinois House returns to session later this year, he will ask state representatives to vote to remove Douglas' portrait from the House chamber, and to replace it with a portrait of former President Barack Obama. In the meantime, he is taking steps to cover Douglas' portrait as soon as possible.
"Memorializing people and a time that allowed slavery and fostered bigotry and oppression has no place in the Illinois House, where the work of all Illinoisans is conducted. We can only move forward in creating a more just world when these symbols of hate are removed from our everyday lives," Madigan said in a statement on Thursday.
While best known for his debates against Abraham Lincoln in the 1858 race for U.S. Senate in Illinois, Douglas was also a slave owner, who inherited his father-in-law's cotton plantation in Mississippi. Douglas defeated Lincoln in the Senate race, but Lincoln defeated Douglas in the 1860 presidential election.
"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. "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."
In addition to moving to remove Douglas' portrait from the House chamber, Madigan said he is asking the statehouse's Office of the Architect to remove a statue of Douglas from the capitol grounds, as well as a statue of Pierre Menard, who was the state's first lieutenant governor, but also a slave owner.
Madigan also wants the capitol's statue of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved to a more prominent location at the capitol. It currently stands at the corner of 2nd and Capitol in Springfield, across the street from the east steps of the statehouse, where a statue of Abraham Lincoln stands on the capitol steps.
"Further, I am asking the Office and its board to work with all Illinoisans to conduct a thorough review of all statues, portraits and symbols on the Capitol grounds to ensure any inappropriate fixtures are removed and all feel welcome," Madigan said. "Of course, removing these images does not erase our history, but it is one more step in acknowledging the suffering of so many and committing to creating a better Illinois for everyone."
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