Madi­gan push­ing to re­move por­trait of Stephen Dou­glas from Illi­nois House, say­ing he re­cently learned of sen­a­tor’s ‘dis­turb­ing past as a Mississipp­i slave owner’

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY TINA SFONDELES, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER ts­fonde­les@sun­ | @Ti­naS­fon

The Vel­vet Ham­mer is tak­ing a swing at the Lit­tle Gi­ant.

Illi­nois House Speaker Mike Madi­gan on Thurs­day said he’s push­ing to re­move a por­trait of Stephen Dou­glas from the Illi­nois House chambers, say­ing he just learned a few months ago “of Stephen Dou­glas’ dis­turb­ing past as a Mississipp­i slave owner and his ab­hor­rent words to­ward peo­ple of color.”

Dou­glas, a Demo­cratic sen­a­tor from Illi­nois, is best known for his de­bates with Abra­ham Lin­coln and the Kansas-Ne­braska Act, which cre­ated “pop­u­lar sovereignt­y” — leav­ing open the ques­tion of slav­ery — in or­der to build a transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road.

“Stephen Dou­glas had touted his bill as a peace­ful set­tle­ment of na­tional is­sues, but what it pro­duced was a pre­lude to civil war,” a U.S. Se­nate sum­mary of the Kansas-Ne­braska Act notes.

Dou­glas was known as the “Lit­tle Gi­ant,” be­cause he was 5 foot 4 inches tall, but cast a long shadow in na­tional pol­i­tics.

His tomb is in Chicago’s Bronzevill­e neigh­bor­hood, just east of South 35th Street and Cot­tage Grove.

Madi­gan, 78, said he learned of

Dou­glas’ past from Sid­ney Blu­men­thal’s book “All the Pow­ers of Earth,” a vol­ume in a se­ries of Lin­coln bi­ogra­phies. The speaker said he be­came more “res­o­lute” in his de­ci­sion to re­move the por­trait af­ter Ge­orge Floyd was killed by Min­neapo­lis po­lice.

Madi­gan is far from alone. Across the coun­try, Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments and im­ages are be­ing re­moved as the coun­try grap­ples with its heav­ily doc­u­mented racist past. This week in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, crews were re­mov­ing Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments af­ter the city’s mayor or­dered all city-owned Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues cleared away, un­til an in­junc­tion to tem­po­rar­ily stop the re­movals was granted, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Known as the “Vel­vet Ham­mer,” for his quiet but iron-fisted con­trol of the House, Madi­gan said he will in­tro­duce a res­o­lu­tion to au­tho­rize the re­moval, and to also re­place the por­trait with one of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whom he called “a more fit­ting rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the mod­ern-day Demo­cratic Party.”

In the mean­time, the pow­er­ful South­west Side Demo­crat said he plans to cover the por­trait un­til he can get the res­o­lu­tion passed.

The speaker says he’s also call­ing for the re­moval of stat­ues of Dou­glas and Pierre Me­nard — a 19th-cen­tury state of­fi­cial who owned en­slaved peo­ple — from the Capi­tol grounds. And he wants to move a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “to a lo­ca­tion of more promi­nence and honor.”

The speaker said he wants a “thor­ough re­view of all stat­ues, por­traits and sym­bols on the Capi­tol grounds to en­sure any in­ap­pro­pri­ate fix­tures are re­moved and all feel wel­come.”

“Memo­ri­al­iz­ing peo­ple and a time that al­lowed slav­ery and fos­tered big­otry and op­pres­sion has no place in the Illi­nois House, where the work of all Illi­noisans is con­ducted,” Madi­gan said in a state­ment. “We can only move for­ward in cre­at­ing a more just world when these sym­bols of hate are re­moved from our ev­ery­day lives.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dave Druker, spokesman for Illi­nois Sec­re­tary of State Jesse White, two stat­ues of Dou­glas sit on the Capi­tol grounds: One is out­side on the east side of the Capi­tol, and the other is in­side on the sec­ond floor near the Hall of Gov­er­nors. Dou­glas’ statue is one of sev­eral hon­or­ing Illi­nois leg­is­la­tors. The Dou­glas por­trait is in the House chambers.

Lin­coln is also memo­ri­al­ized with two stat­ues at the Capi­tol, Druker said.

The out­door Dou­glas statue was ded­i­cated on Oct. 5, 1918, and was pro­duced for about $25,000. The statue was moved in 1935 to its present lo­ca­tion.

“En­graved on the base of the statue is Dou­glas’ dy­ing mes­sage to his chil­dren, ‘... to obey the laws and sup­port the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States,’” the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice wrote in a statue tour pam­phlet.

A statue of Me­nard sits on the lawn be­tween the south­west corner of the Capi­tol and the Howlett Build­ing near Sec­ond Street, Druker said. The son of Me­nard’s for­mer busi­ness part­ner do­nated about $10,000 for the statue and a 10-foot gran­ite base, ac­cord­ing to the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice.

Me­nard was a French Cana­dian busi­ness­man and fur trader, and was pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer of the Illi­nois Ter­ri­to­rial Leg­is­la­ture. He also served as the state’s first lieu­tenant gov­er­nor be­tween 1818 and 1822, ac­cord­ing to the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources. Me­nard’s home in Ellis Grove is a his­tor­i­cal site open to vis­i­tors. Me­nard is listed as a “slave owner” on the state’s web­site.

The 8-foot bronze statue of Me­nard was placed on the Capi­tol lawn on May 28, 1886. The sculp­ture shows Me­nard “de­picted trad­ing with a Na­tive Amer­i­can along the Mississipp­i River. The fox skin and calumet pipe sym­bol­ize the peace­ful com­merce Me­nard fos­tered be­tween the Na­tive Amer­i­can and white com­mu­ni­ties,” the tour pam­phlet reads.


House Speaker Michael Madi­gan A por­trait of Stephen Dou­glas over­looks the Illi­nois House.


A por­trait of Stephen Dou­glas over­looks the Illi­nois House.

A statue of Stephen Dou­glas (left) in­side the state Capi­tol and a sculp­ture of Pierre Me­nard and an un­named Na­tive Amer­i­can (right) on the Capi­tol grounds. House Speaker Michael Madi­gan is call­ing for stat­ues of Dou­glas and Me­nard to be re­moved.

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