John Lewis statue proposal advances in Georgia House

A measure that would honor the late Rep. John Lewis with a statue at the U.S. Capitol advanced Wednesday in the state House.

The House State Properties Committee approved House Resolution 14, which would make Lewis one of the two Georgians honored at the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Each state gets two statues in Statuary Hall. Georgia’s current honorees are Crawford W. Long, a 19th century physician who pioneered the use of ether in surgery, and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a vice president of the Confederacy.

HR 14 would replace Stephens’ statue with a new one of Lewis. It would form a committee to select a sculptor to create the Lewis statute, to review and approve the plans, and to identify private funding to pay for it. The committee also would find a suitable place to relocate the Stephens statue.

The committee would be composed of eight members — four appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp and two each by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston.

The idea of honoring Lewis at the U.S. Capitol began circulating shortly after he died in July. The proposal has been endorsed by Kemp, Duncan and Ralston.

At Wednesday’s hearing, some Republican lawmakers said their constituents wondered whether other Georgians had been considered for the honor. And some questioned the idea of honoring a politician instead of a more “unifying” choice.

“Hank Aaron’s name has come up,” said Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans. “Politicians tend not to be considered unifiers.”

Nonetheless, the measure passed the committee with only one dissenting vote.

For many Lewis fans, the idea of replacing a statue of Stephens — a secessionist who called slavery the “natural and normal condition” of Black people — with one of the civil rights legend has special resonance.

The resolution says Lewis “passionately opposed hatred and discrimination, led in the Civil Rights Movement that changed the course of history.” And it notes that he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom “for his efforts to create a just society and his years of public service.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who sponsored the resolution, stuck to describing its contents.

“We’re honoring the life and memory of Rep. John Lewis,” he told the committee.

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