By Oregon NOW Executive Director,
If you’ve been to Statuary Hall in our nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C., you’ve seen the beautiful display of two statues from each state representing some of the inspirational people who have shaped our nation’s history.
But there’s a problem. Of the 100 statues, only nine are women and fewer are people of color. The rest? White men.
Statuary Hall is but one example of how people of color, women and especially women of color are grossly under-represented in our nation’s visual history.
Since 2014, Oregonians have considered replacing our two statues — John McLoughlin and Jason Lee — who’ve represented Oregon since 1953. To that end, former Gov. John Kitzhaber created a nine-member Statuary Hall Study Commission and directed its members to bring recommendations to the 2015 state Legislature. Ultimately, the commission recommended installing statues memorializing Chief Joseph and Abigail Scott Duniway, who both fought to expand rights for Oregonians and shape our state and nation for the better.
Part of the commission’s decision-making process included a public poll, which favored longtime Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield. The commission factored these results into its recommendations and still chose to recommend Chief Joseph and Abigail Scott Duniway.
Oregon NOW was pleased with the commission’s recommendations because it not only creates a more inclusive picture of our state and nation’s history in Statuary Hall, but also begins to make visible what’s for too long been invisible. It’s not just statues; women and people of color are largely missing in our public representation of history — from bridges, roads, buildings and schools to public art.
Despite the commission’s clear recommendation to send statues of a Native chief and a suffragette to our nation’s Capitol, legislation was almost passed this session that would have sent a statue of Hatfield instead of Duniway, replacing a suffragette with, yes, another white male. And we objected.
Sen. Mark Hatfield did, of course, make great contributions to the state and is someone of whom Oregonians can be proud. But his name already graces more public buildings, schools, trails and research centers than we can count. It’s high time for different people to represent us, those who tell other important stories about our history, stories of triumph but also of trauma. We need reminders of those parts of our history that have been marked by exclusion and displacement, but also by great progress, due to the bravery of those — like Chief Joseph and Abigail Scott Duniway — who were willing to push our nation toward justice.
If the people represented in Statuary Hall have any affect on our Congress today, there must be more like Chief Joseph and Abigail Scott Duniway, whose presence can remind and inspire our leaders to carry on their unfinished work and teach all who visit how far we’ve come and how far we must still go until we can all be truly free and at peace.
Kristin Teigen of Portland is president of Oregon NOW. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Michelle Ganow-Jones of Portland is executive director of Oregon NOW. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.