Heard on the Hill

Johnny Cash is replacing one of the Capitol’s Civil War statues

The country music legend and civil rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates will replace controversial Civil War figures

A statue of Uriah Milton Rose of Arkansas is seen in the Capitol's Statuary Hall on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The times are changing, and so is the marble. Arkansas is leaving behind statues of the old guard and sending a few new faces to the U.S. Capitol.

Civil rights icon Daisy Gatson Bates and musician Johnny Cash will join the Statuary Hall collection in D.C., replacing 19th-century attorney Uriah Milton Rose and statesman James Paul Clarke. The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, made the plan official by signing a bill last week. 

Both Rose and Clarke were political figures during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Though he opposed secession, Rose was loyal to Arkansas, a Confederate state during the war. Clarke, whose descendants have grappled with his racist views, was a United States senator and governor of the state.

High-profile members of Congress, including Sen. Cory Booker and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have for years pushed to remove Confederate artwork from the Capitol. But historically the decision hasn’t been up to them. Each state gifts two statues to the collection, with state governments deciding who makes the cut.

At least one Arkansan in Washington — Republican Rep. French Hill — praised his state’s new direction.

“Arkansas icons Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash are worthy additions to the U.S. Capitol statue collection. I applaud the decision by Gov. Hutchinson and the General Assembly to recognize their historic contributions and preserve their inspiring legacies for future generations,” Hill said.

Once Rose is gone, 11 sculptures of men with ties to the Confederacy will remain in the Statuary Hall collection.

Cutting ties with Confederate art wasn’t the main goal of Arkansas state Sen. David Wallace, the lead sponsor of the bill. Instead, he cited name recognition.

“The statues there in the hall now are of two fine gentlemen, but they are of a different era,” Wallace said. “I remember when I came back from Vietnam and I went to the hall, then I saw all these great men, and then I went in front of the Arkansas statues and I didn’t know who they were. That’s nothing against them, but their time has faded.”

Others in Arkansas see it differently. Even Clarke’s own great-great-grandson says his ancestor isn’t a fitting symbol of the state, pointing to his racist comments. 

“The people of the South looked to the Democratic Party to preserve the white standards of civilization,” Clarke reportedly said in 1894 while running for governor of Arkansas.

In a column for the Arkansas Times last year, Clarke Tucker denounced his forefather’s views. The former state lawmaker, who at the time was challenging Hill in the 2nd District House race, encouraged the Arkansas General Assembly to replace the statue with one of Bates or a member of the Little Rock Nine.

In the end, Bates was the assembly’s choice, along with music legend Cash. The newcomers have very different résumés. Cash, who died in 2003, was an Arkansas native who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He grew up on a farm, which represents the common man of Arkansas, Wallace said. Bates was president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and helped organize the Little Rock Nine during the civil rights movement.

The statue swap likely won’t occur for another few years, because the state needs to gather funding from private donors to construct the replacements, Wallace said. It hasn't been decided where the statues will stand following their removal, but he hopes the pair will find a home in the old Arkansas statehouse, where Rose served during his lifetime.

Both statues occupied Statuary Hall for nearly a century. Rose was added in 1917, while Clark was added in 1921.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.