Statues of Arkansans in D.C. raise query: Rose, Clarke who?
WASHINGTON — Visitors to the U.S. Capitol often linger among the 100 statues honoring famous or important residents from each state.
Oklahoma has a statue of actor and humorist Will Rogers; Tennessee has one of President Andrew Jackson.
But retired Rogers High School history teacher Richard Bland said that when he saw Arkansas’ statues he was floored.
“I have a Ph.D. in U.S. history, and I couldn’t place immediately who James Paul Clarke was,” he said. “And I thought, well maybe we ought to have somebody a little more recognizable than that.”
Years after that initial visit, Bland is working to change the two Arkansans who represent the state to the millions of people who visit the nation’s Capitol each year.
A few Arkansas lawmakers said they support a change, but all involved said it won’t be easy to sway relatives of the men currently enshrined, or to reach a consensus on who to memorialize and raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for it.
In 1864, Congress passed a law inviting each state to submit up to two bronze or marble statues to be placed in the old House chamber, now known as Statuary Hall. The memorialized people have to be deceased, state residents and “illustrious for their historic renown or for
distinguished civic or military services.”
In 1917, the Arkansas Legislature approved a marble statue of attorney Uriah M. Rose, and in 1921 approved a marble statue of U.S. Sen. James P. Clarke, who had also been the state’s governor.
Rose, born in Bradfordsville, Ky., helped found the Rose Law Firm, which still operates in Little Rock. He helped found the American Bar Association, and President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as a delegate to the Second Peace Conference at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1907.
Clarke, born in Yazoo City, Miss., moved to Arkansas in 1879 and opened a law practice in Helena. He was Arkansas governor from 1895-1897 and a U.S. senator from 1903-16. He was Senate president pro tempore, making him third in the line of succession for the presidency.
As more states were created and the weight of the marble became too much, the statues were spread across the Capitol and its visitors center.
Rose’s statue sits in a corner of Statuary Hall. Clarke’s is near the entrance to the Capitol visitors center, across from the coat-check office.
The statues were intended to be permanent memorials, but in recent decades, states began pushing for the opportunity to change them. In 2000, Congress agreed to allow states to submit new statues, if the state paid the cost.
Whether to replace a statue, and with whom, is up to each state legislature, and the state must pay to create and install the new statue and remove the old one, as well as foot the bill for the unveiling ceremony.
So far, only a handful of states have switched out their statues.
In 2001, Arkansas Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, proposed state legislation to replace Rose’s statue with one of Little Rock Nine mentor Daisy Gatson Bates. The bill died in committee.
“I still want it to happen,” said Hutchinson, now a state senator. “Daisy Bates makes a far better representation of who we are, the struggles we’ve gone through and the improvements we’ve made. It would help us live down some of the history that we made that did not put Arkansas in a very good light.”
Congress commissioned a statue of civil-rights leader Rosa Parks in 2013, but no state is currently represented by a statue of a black woman in the Capitol building.
Hutchinson said he thought of it while visiting his father, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, in Washington.
“I got a tour, and there were all these great stories about some of these statues that were just entertaining and really interesting. We came to Arkansas, and it was “wahwah-wah,” he said, making a noise like a trombone.
He hasn’t thought about the project in years, he said, but would consider filing the legislation again.
In 2013, state Reps. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, and Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, each filed legislation to allow new statues. Neither bill was considered. Incoming Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently picked Baird as his budget director. Scott said the work will continue.
“In no way are we saying that they are not worthy,” Scott said of Rose and Clarke. But, “it’s time to change it and have someone else’s statue there.”
Bland and a group of friends worked on the bill with Scott in 2013. He said he recognizes that Rose and Clarke still have supporters who’d like to keep things the way they are.
Incoming state Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said it means a lot to see his great-great-grandfather in the U.S. Capitol.
“That’s who I was named for,” Tucker said. “It definitely means a lot to our family.”
Tucker said he first traveled to see the statue when he was age 13, and he is looking forward to taking his children to see it as well.
“It’s kind of a family tradition for everyone to have their picture taken [while they] stand next to the statue,” Tucker said.
Rose Law Firm attorney Steve Joiner also defended keeping Rose’s statue.
“Judge Rose was very important to the history of this state,” Joiner said. “It was probably a big debate 100 years ago. The arguments are just as good for him as it is for anybody else.”
Bland said he wants the state to at least have a discussion about it.
“It’s not something you want to turn into a bitter fight,” Bland said. “If my great-greatgranddad was on display at the U.S. Capitol, I wouldn’t want to replace him either.”
Even if the Legislature wants new statues, either the state or a private company would have to raise the money for them, he said. The two newest statues in the Statuary Hall collection cost about $300,000 each.
The first step would be choosing what new people to memorialize, Bland said. A group of historians, lawmakers and citizens should decide, he said.
A well-known figure — such as Bates or U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, creator of the Fulbright Scholar Program — may get supporters willing to raise the money, he said.
“It doesn’t have to be a political figure. It could be a business figure, it could be a sports figure, it could be an arts figure,” Bland said.
Writer Maya Angelou, WalMart founder Sam Walton or musician Johnny Cash should also be considered, Bland said.
Arkansas Historical Association President Tim Nutt, who is head of special collections at the University of Arkansas, said an online listserv of Arkansas historians, professors and history buffs debated the matter when Scott filed his legislation.
“Even on that list, a lot of people didn’t know who James P. Clarke was,” Nutt said. “That tells you something.”
He said that suggested replacements included Angelou, Bates and U.S. Sen. Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“There was some feeling on the listserv to maybe get away from the old, dead, white guy and, you know, have a little bit of diversity,” he said.
Others suggested were Gov. Win Rockefeller, President Bill Clinton or U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers — though Clinton and Bumpers can’t be memorialized with a statue until after they die.
At this point, the discussion is mostly academic, Nutt said.
“I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere anytime soon, but it is interesting to think about it,” Nutt said. “I think it will come up again.”
University of Arkansas history professor Jeannie Whayne said she has mixed feelings about replacing Rose and Clarke, but if they are replaced, it should be with someone who represents the state’s diversity.
“Their selection itself stands as an artifact of history. They were chosen at a place and time, and their selection suggests something interesting about that place and time,” she said. “If we were to replace the statues, we should be aware that we are making a statement about who we are today.”
Arkansas State University associate history professor Gary Edwards said it would be difficult to agree on who to make a statue of and to persuade the state Legislature to appropriate the money.
“In the current climate, I think Arkansans will continue to live with Rose and Clarke as their stone representatives,” Edwards said.