When the Rev. Billy Graham died last week at the age of 99, it set in motion a plan to memorialize him in the U.S. Capitol — and to kick out a white supremacist.
Graham will briefly lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. But his likeness could endure in the building for much longer than that.
North Carolina’s legislature wants to add a statue of the noted evangelical preacher to the Capitol’s collection, replacing that of Charles Aycock, a white supremacist and North Carolina’s 50th governor.
While then-Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill requesting the swap two years ago, it had to wait until Graham’s death, since the National Statuary Hall Collection — which features two statues from every state — bars likenesses of living people.
Now members of Congress from North Carolina are speaking out in favor of the plan.
“Not only do I agree with that decision, I will do anything I can to work and promote it and I will do everything I can to do it as expeditiously as possible,” Rep. Mark Walker said last week after Graham’s death.
It was Walker who presented the resolution that Rep. Patrick McHenry authored and introduced to authorize Graham to lie in honor Wednesday and Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda.
“I really never even envisioned to have that opportunity of putting the legal, or the House resolution, on the floor. That’s a very special privilege, and I was honored to come back to D.C. to do it,” Walker said.
For him, the switch is less about replacing Aycock, who has stood in the Capitol since 1932, and more about honoring Graham.
“[Graham’s] certainly more of the positive,” Walker said. “It wouldn’t matter who’s there, no matter what North Carolinian, no matter what they had accomplished, I think the vast [majority of] North Carolinians would think Billy Graham would have to be in there.”
Sen. Thom Tillis is also in favor of the switch.
“Senator Tillis strongly supports replacing the statue of Charles Aycock in the Capitol with a statue of Reverend Billy Graham, a proud North Carolinian and America’s Pastor who preached the Gospel and emphasized the need for inclusiveness in our society,” spokesman Adam Webb said in a statement.
His colleague in the Senate, Richard M. Burr, was the first to suggest to state legislative leaders that they take steps to authorize adding Graham to the Statuary Hall collection several years ago, according to a spokesperson.
“He was a leader in securing the Reverend’s family’s blessings, and sees this as a fitting tribute to the life and faith of this incredible man. Senator Burr looks forward to soon being able to walk by America’s Pastor and North Carolina’s son in the halls of Congress,” the spokesperson said.
Rep. Robert Pittenger said the statue would be a fitting tribute to Graham, even if it clashed with his doctrine of humility.
“As someone who spent his life deflecting praise and giving all glory to Jesus Christ, Dr. Graham probably would have turned down this honor. Yet given the tremendous impact Dr. Graham had on my life, and the lives of millions of Americans, I can’t think of a more fitting and enduring honor than placing his statue in the United States Capitol,” the congressman said in a statement.
He added, “The statue will publicly and permanently honor a North Carolina native and ‘America’s Pastor,’ a humble servant who faithfully fulfilled God’s calling for over eight decades.”
North Carolina’s other statue is Zebulon Vance, who was a governor and senator. His statue has been in the Capitol since 1916.
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