Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC11) voted by proxy Tuesday against a House bill to remove statues of white supremacists and pro-slavery Confederate sympathizers from the halls of Congress. The resolution passed with bipartisan support, 285 to 120, with three North Carolina Republicans joining the Democrats in voting to replace the statues.
The bill now goes to the Senate. A similar resolution passed the House last year, 305-113, but then-majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not allow it to come up for a Senate vote.
The bill opposed by Cawthorn calls for the removal of “all Confederate statues and Confederate busts from any area of the United States Capitol which is accessible to the public.” It also specifically calls for removing a statue honoring former North Carolina Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock, who was a key figure in fomenting the Wilmington massacre of 1898, in which a mob of some 2,000 whites attacked and killed at least 60 and possibly more than 300 Black residents.
As governor, Aycock wrote that North Carolina had “solved the negro problem” by “as far as possible under the Fifteenth Amendment to disfranchise him.” “He is unfit to vote,” Aycock wrote.
In 2018 the state of North Carolina voted to replace the Aycock statue — on display in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol — with one of the Rev. Billy Graham, the Christian evangelist from Montreat, who died earlier that year, but the replacement has not yet happened. Each state has two statues in the Capitol’s National Statuary collection; North Carolina’s other statue is of Zebulon B. Vance, a Confederate officer, two-time governor, U.S. senator, slaveholder, and avowed white supremacist whose monument in downtown Asheville was demolished this year.
The bill Cawthorn opposed also specifically calls for replacing a bust honoring former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, a white supremacist who delivered the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, with one of Thurgood Marshall, the court’s first African-American justice and a champion of the civil rights movement.
In Scott, Taney wrote that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race.” His landmark decision argued that “any person descended from Africans,” whether enslaved or free, would never be eligible for citizenship in the United States and that the federal government had no right to forbid or abolish slavery in expansion states.
Asheville Watchdog requested comment from Cawthorn’s office about his opposition to removing the statues and busts, but has not yet received a response. Cawthorn was traveling to Texas for a media event at the Mexican border with former President Donald Trump.
But in an interview with The Washington Examiner a year ago, then-candidate Cawthorn spoke in favor of removing public monuments to Confederate leaders. “Gen. Lee was a great man, an incredible man,” Cawthorn told the newspaper, “but I think he was on the wrong side of history, and I don’t think we should romanticize the side of history he was on.” — P.L.
[Editor’s note: This story was updated to note that because he was traveling, Rep. Cawthorn instructed his “nay” vote to be cast by his proxy, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX).]