Emily Zeugner, AP, September 24, 2007
Lawmakers want schoolchildren to help recommend a new statue of a famous Ohioan to represent the state in the U.S. Capitol.
The recommendations will help lawmakers decide who should replace a statue of William Allen, a 19th century congressman and Ohio governor who portrayed blacks as savages and supported the rights of Southern slave owners.
Allen is one of two Ohioans in the National Statuary Hall, a large semicircular room in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., that honors historic figures from each state. Ohio donated Allen’s statue to the Capitol’s collection in 1887, where it joined that of James Garfield, the nation’s 20th president, who was assassinated in 1881.
“We figured it was probably time to bring Gov. Allen back home to Ohio and pick someone who better embodies the spirit of our state for the Capitol,” said state Rep. Mark Wagoner, a Republican from Toledo who is a member of a committee seeking to replace the statue.
Possibilities for new statues abound in Ohio’s rich history, Wagoner said.
Olympic gold medal winner Jesse Owens or Toledo’s Michael Owens, who created a glass bottling empire that employed much of the northwestern part of the state in the early 1900s, are just a few examples, Wagoner said.
The six-member House-Senate committee has called on the Ohio Historical Society and the Department of Education to encourage as many Ohioans as possible to weigh in on a suitable statue. Lawmakers hope fifth-graders, who have an Ohio history requirement in their curriculum, will be particularly active in suggesting famous figures.
The Historical Society is creating a Web site where people can cast a vote or nominate a favorite Ohioan from history. The parameters for a nomination are wide open. The National Statuary Hall Collection requires only that the subject be a deceased U.S. citizen, known for “distinguished civic or military service.”
Michael Ring, spokesman for the Ohio Historical Society, said he expects nominations to range from sharpshooter Annie Oakley to inventor Thomas Edison to sports figures such as Branch Rickey, a baseball executive who broke the game’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson.
“Hopefully there will be a mix of women, men, African-Americans, pioneers, presidents . . . people who make history come alive for Ohioans,” Ring said.
The move to oust Allen is part of a growing trend of states replacing their statues in the Capitol’s statuary hall to better reflect America’s diversity.
In 2000, Congress enacted a law allowing legislatures to replace their statues with figures they felt better represented their state’s history. Kansas was the first to do so, exchanging a marble statue of an obscure former governor, George Washington Glick, with a bronze of former President Dwight Eisenhower.