(The Center Square) – The Office of the Architect of the Capitol Board voted Wednesday to move forward with plans to rearrange several large statues with connections to slavery on the Illinois State Capitol grounds, despite not knowing how much the proposals will cost.
Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, requested the removal of statues of Stephen Douglas and Pierre Menard, the state’s first lieutenant governor, from the complex. Both Douglas and Menard owned slaves or owned property where slaves were used.
“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 last month in the wake of unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. “We can only move forward in creating a more just world when these symbols of hate are removed from our everyday lives.”
Madigan wanted the Douglas statue removed the capitol lawn.
Scott Kaiser, a member of the Board of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol who is also Assistant Secretary of the Senate, noted an inconsistency in the board’s approach because the complex has two statues of Douglas, including one inside the capitol building
“In some ways, the indoor statue is even more prominent than the outdoor one since we have guided tours on the inside,” Kaiser said.
The board voted unanimously to move forward on Wednesday. Architect Andrea Aggertt said even before Wednesday’s vote, the office had done some work.
“We’ve actually already started to reach out to some contractors,” Aggertt said. “We believe we can get this done in the next two to three months.”
Aggertt did not have an estimated cost for the removal and storage of the statues when asked after the meeting. She also did not know if the job would be put out for bid.
Madigan also requested the removal of a statue of Menard. Other motions that passed included an updated review of all artwork on the grounds and a review of how to get a Martin Luther King Jr. statue moved from across the street to the capitol lawn.
No cost estimates were provided by the architect for any of the initiatives.
Board member John Hollman, who is also the Clerk of the House, said it would important to know the genesis of the statues and artworks for the review process.
“The history of the statues, we kind of know when they were there,” Hollman said. “We don’t kind of know why they were there.”
University of Illinois History Professor Ikuko Asaka noted Douglas’ work to expand slavery.
“It’s not just the fact that his wife owned slaves,” she said, “he structurally enabled the expansion of slavery.”
Asaka also said Douglas’ other contributions to Illinois and the nation could be one reason he was memorialized the capitol grounds.
“He was really pro-transcontinental railroad going through Illinois,” Asaka said. “[Douglas] actually did a lot of economic benefits to the state of Illinois.”
Asaka said momentum has been growing across the country to remove statutes of people connected to slavery. She said it doesn’t mean history is being forgotten or rewritten.
“They don’t like to have those statues put up or looking down on us as something to be appreciated or respected,” Asaka said.
When asked Wednesday if the board complied with state law by posting its meeting agenda at least 48 hours in advance, the architect declined to comment.