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Georgia House committee: In with John Lewis, out with Confederate veep

John LeCongressman John Lewis speaks at the dedication of John Lewis Freedom Parkway in 2019. File/Credit: Kelly Jordanwis Atlanta Freedom Parkway Congressman John Lewis speaks at the dedication of John Lewis Freedom Parkway in 2019. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

A Georgia House committee took the first formal steps to put a statue of late Atlanta Congressman John Lewis in the U.S. Capitol and remove one of Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens.

“This bill, first and foremost is: it is resolved by the assembly that we’re honoring the life and memory of Representative John Lewis,” said state Rep. Al Williams, a Midway Democrat who filed the statue-switch legislation. Williams is a near-contemporary of Lewis and participated in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama led by Lewis.

Every state gets two statues in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Right now, Georgia’s entries are Stephens and Crawford W. Long, the doctor who discovered and developed uses of ether in surgery.

A statue switch wouldn’t happen until at least 2022 because there’s a lot to do, like readying a statue of Lewis and finding a new location in Georgia for Stephens.

Jan. 13, 2021: Rep. Al Williams talks about his legislation on the Georgia House floor.

For years, there’s been talk about replacing Stephens. Williams said there was a proposal for Martin Luther King Jr.; but that there’s already a statue of King at the U.S. Capitol.

At a state House committee hearing Wednesday, state Rep. Jodi Lott, R- Evans, said that her constituents want to know why Lewis was chosen.

“There were others … certainly Hank Aaron’s name has come up as an incredible unifier of the state,” Lott said.  “Politicians tend to not be considered unifiers for all of us.”

There was also a little committee concern about Lewis being from Alabama, not Georgia.

Lewis was indeed born in Alabama. But from Atlanta City Council to Congress, the Democrat made his career in Atlanta. Aaron was born in Alabama too, for that matter.

By a voice vote that was not unanamious, the Georgia House State Properties Committee approved Williams’ House Resolution 14.

It’s almost certain to pass the full state House, as the second sponsor of the legislation is House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Much of the bill deals with setting up a committee to find a new spot for Stephens, select a Lewis sculptor and coordinate communications between Georgia and the U.S. Capitol.  All the moving and sculpting will be paid for with private money, not public funds.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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