TGIF, Illinois. We’re signing out this week with a new rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” a fundraising effort for city artists. (h/t WGN’s Dean Richards)
House Speaker Michael Madigan is calling for the removal of a portrait of famed American politician Stephen Douglas, whose family owned slaves, from the House chamber in the Capitol. In its place, Madigan wants to hang a portrait of former President Barack Obama, “a more fitting representation” of the modern-day Democratic Party.
“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 Thursday.
The speaker says he’ll present a resolution in the fall session for removing the portrait and statutes of Douglas and Pierre Menard, the state’s first lieutenant governor who also owned slaves. Along with honoring Obama, Madigan wants to move the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. “to a location of more prominence and honor.”
Public officials and private citizens nationwide are reevaluating the country’s history of slave-holding, the Confederacy that defended the practice and how the legacy relates to our lives today after protests for racial justice erupted following George Floyd’s killing. It seemed only matter of time before it reached Springfield.
Republicans Reps so far aren’t arguing about an Obama portrait staring down at them: “I disagree with President Obama on a lot of issues. However, it’s reasonable that his portrait will be displayed on the Democratic side of the chamber because he served in the Illinois General Assembly,” Rep. Dave McSweeney said. “I’m very proud of the Lincoln portrait on the Republican side of the chamber.”
Illinois has a complicated history in slavery, and Madigan may well find himself removing more artifacts from view than Douglas. Shadrach Bond, Illinois’ first governor, was a slave owner, as were former Govs. Ninian Edwards and John Reynolds. (A group in Edwardsville is already calling for a statue of its namesake to be removed.)
Douglas’ story is woven into American history as he was challenged by Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. Senate seat that Douglas held. And in 1860, they faced each other in a run for the presidency. In the Illinois race, the two faced off in seven debates across the state, famously known as The Great Debates of 1858.
“Textbooks are terrible about their treatment of Douglas. They avoid the ‘r’ word: racism,” James Loewen, a historian and author about race, told…