A statue of the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis could soon replace the likeness of Alexander Stephens, a slave owner and vice president of the Confederacy, in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, under a bipartisan resolution introduced Wednesday in the Georgia House.
The push to drop Stephens in favor of Lewis, who served as a Georgia congressman for 33 years, comes amid nationwide soul-searching over celebrations of the Confederacy; dozens of Confederate statues fell during protests for racial justice over the spring and summer.
The resolution is sponsored by state Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat from Midway, and has the backing of Republican House Speaker David Ralston.
Prominent Georgia politicians on both sides of the aisle endorsed the idea after Lewis’ death in July, including Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. The majority of Georgia’s congressional delegation signed onto a letter asking Kemp, Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to replace the statue of Stephens with one of Lewis.
“John Lewis’ commitment to non-violence in the pursuit of justice for all inspired millions across Georgia, America, and the world. Because of the life and activism of John Lewis, America is more fair, more just, and more kind,” U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said in a statement after Lewis’ death. “There is no better Georgian we could choose to represent our state in our nation’s Capitol than our beloved friend, colleague, and hero, John Robert Lewis.”
Each state is represented by two statues in the U.S. Capitol building. Stephens has been on display as one of Georgia’s statues since 1927.
Stephens was a white supremacist who lived from 1812 to 1883. In addition to his role in the Confederacy, he served in Congress and was Georgia’s governor for four months before his death.
Lewis was originally from Alabama but made Atlanta his longtime home. He is perhaps best known for leading civil rights protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he had his skull fractured by police.