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Eleanor N.
Democrat DC 0

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  • Authorizing Use of Emancipation Hall for Unveiling of Statue of Frederick Douglass

    by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton

    Posted on 2013-05-21

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    NORTON. I rise in strong support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 16.

    I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Miller for her help in bringing this resolution to the floor. I also thank Ranking Member Brady for his longstanding commitment to placing a District of Columbia statue in the United States Capitol. When he chaired the committee, it approved my bill that would have given the District two statues in the Capitol, the usual practice. But, we are pleased to have our first statue and are grateful to the House leadership for permitting this bill on the floor today. We especially thank Senators Schumer and Durbin for their help in getting this resolution, as well as the bill authorizing the placement of the Douglass statue in the Capitol, passed in the Senate. The District of Columbia has no Senators so we're fortunate we have distinguished allies like Senators Schumer and Durbin.

    Like the residents of the 50 States, the residents of the District of Columbia have fought and died in all our Nation's wars and have always paid Federal income taxes. Unlike the residents of the 50 States, however, District of Columbia residents are still fighting for their equal rights as American citizens. Since 2002, one component of that fight has been to have statues representing the District of Columbia placed in the Capitol, like the States, which fulfill every obligation of citizenship, as the District does.

    D.C. residents chose Douglass to represent them in the Capitol not only because he is one of the great international icons of human and civil rights; but for us, Douglass is especially important because he was not content to rest on his historic national achievements alone. He knew where he lived and was deeply involved in the civic and political affairs of the District of Columbia.

    Douglass, a strong Republican, served as Recorder of Deeds of the District of Columbia, as United States Marshal here, as a member of the D.C. Council--its upper chamber then--appointed by the Republican president at the time, Ulysses S. Grant. Douglass was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Howard University for 24 years. Douglass made his home in the Anacostia neighborhood of southeast Washington, which is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service.

    In choosing Douglass, it was important to our residents that Douglass also dedicated himself to securing self-government and voting rights for the residents of the District of Columbia. Many Americans may not know that D.C. residents have only rarely had even nonvoting representation in the Congress, or a local government, and even today have no vote on the floor of the House and no Senators, although our residents pay Federal income taxes like everybody else and fight in all the Nation's wars like everybody else. The city had both home rule and a delegate for a brief period during Reconstruction and then was without any home rule government or any representation in the Congress for over 100 years, until the 1970s.

    In his autobiography, ``The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,'' Douglass commented on the unequal political status of his hometown, the District of Columbia, and of its residents. Most of what Douglass wrote in the 19th century holds true today.

    I am quoting Douglass from his autobiography: These people are outside of the United States. They occupy neutral ground and have no political existence. They have neither voice nor vote in all the practical politics of the United States. They are hardly to be called citizens of the United States. Practically, they are aliens, not citizens but subjects. The District of Columbia is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Its citizens submit to rulers whom they have had no choice in selecting. They obey laws which they had no voice in making. They have plenty of taxation but no representation.

    {time} 1420 In the great questions of politics in the country they can march with neither army, but are relegated to the position of neuters. I have nothing to say in favor of this anomalous condition of the people of the District of Columbia, and hardly think that it ought to be or will be much longer. Mr. Douglass did not mince his words.

    The Douglass statue in our Capitol will recognize the universality of his dedication to human rights and democratic rights. His statue in the Capitol will remind District of Columbia residents that they, too, will partake of these values one day. His statue will offer the same pride that other citizens of our country experience when they come to the Capitol and see memorials that commemorate the efforts of their residents and their significant contributions. And the Douglass statue offers other Americans the opportunity to see the residents of their Nation's Capital honored as well in their Capitol.

    Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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