Why Are There Confederate Statues in the District?

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
/ (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman) /
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Despite efforts across the region to remove both vestiges of Confederate history and polarizing U.S. figures memorialized in public spaces, the District remains home to several, including a highly controversial statue of Brig. Gen. Albert Pike situated at Judiciary Square – between D.C. Courthouses and the Labor Department.  And while hidden in plain view, even “conscious” Blacks seem largely unfazed by the towering figure as they enjoy meals and lunch-time strolls around the grounds.

The statue of Brigadier General Albert Pike, a Confederate and Klansman, sits near the Judiciary Square metro station, and remains overlooked by many Blacks in the area.(Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

The six-foot, 300-pound Pike, according to his Smithsonian Associates biography, not only gained notoriety as a teacher, journalist, Brig. Gen. during the Confederacy, and U.S.-Native American treaty negotiator, but also as a Klansman, who has been credited with creating the rituals of the Ku Klux Klan for its founder Nathan Bedford Forest.

“It’s ironic that in a city that was once majority African-American and which is still home to some of the most justice-minded residents, a constant stream of people of all races sit around this statue and eat, talk, and socialize,” Edith Grey-Scott, a Ward 7 resident and long-time Judiciary Square vendor told the AFRO.  “There have been protests in the past to have the monument to Pike removed, but the passion for the fight waned.”

While Pike is the only Confederate Civil War general memorialized in D.C., calls for its removal began in 1991 – with the D.C. Council unable to reach a decision about its razing.  Weekly protests by Lyndon LaRouche, a political activist, continued through 1992, but eventually ended.

The statue was erected in 1901, some 10 years following Pike’s death, by fellow Freemasons, who considered his efforts on behalf of their organization both significant and valiant.

Congress Heights resident Carlos Payton, who walks the path surrounding Pike’s statue during his lunch breaks, said he never paid much attention to the figure – assuming it honored someone of importance to the history of the District or the courthouses.  Upon learning of Pike’s connections to the Confederacy and the Klan, Payton was taken aback.

“That’s unreal.  All these Black people around here and this racist guy is peering down at us as we go about our day… I guess we need to get the statue removed, but also learn a lot more about the history of these parks and monuments surrounding us,” Payton told the AFRO.  “We’ve got our children fighting in the streets for Black Lives Matter, and the whole time, as parents, we’re working around monuments to people who initiated some of these plans to oppress us.”

In addition to Pike’s statue, the National Statuary Hall Collection housed on U.S.Capitol grounds, contain 13 statues of Confederate figures, including Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Edmund Kirby Smith.

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