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GOP rep wants ‘Elvis or nothing’ if Mississippi removes Confederate statues from Washington

Each state is allowed two statues inside the National Statuary Hall’s collection with other Southern states such as Florida and Virginia approving measures in recent years to replace Confederate statues. Photo courtesy of the National Statuary Hall.

Weeks after the state of Arkansas installed a statue of civil rights journalist and activist Daisy Bates next to Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis inside the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, there are rumblings that lawmakers may soon make a move to replace the two confederate statues that have represented the state in Congress for nearly a century.

While Democrats have long been in favor of switching out Mississippi’s two statues in D.C. – one of which is Davis and the other being Confederate politician and military man James Z. George – most Republicans have not outwardly been against the idea but have not made it a priority. GOP Rep. Fred Shanks of Brandon said Monday that this past session was too engulfed by hot-button topics such as K-12 funding, Medicaid expansion, and economic development to truly consider a change to the statues. But now, with some of those issues passed and off the governor’s desk, lawmakers have time to debate and possibly vote on a pair of new statues being shipped to Washington.

“I got asked about it this session,” Shanks said, pointing back to a resolution introduced by House Minority Leader Robert Johnson to replace Davis and George with civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer and Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress.

“Being the (House) rules chairman, the way I looked at it at the time – Washington, D.C. is a long way from Mississippi. Does that affect everyday Mississippians? No, it does not. So, I just really kind of pushed it aside. I’ve been asked about it several times since then if I wanted to do something about it, and I said that I will definitely look at it.”

Mississippi installed statues of Jefferson Davis (left) and James Z. George (right) inside the National Statuary Hall in 1931. Photos courtesy of the National Statuary Hall.

Shanks, who added that his constituency has mixed feelings over replacing the statues, would like to discuss further with his peers plus find out how much it would cost to construct and install new statues before any measures are brought up on the House and Senate floors for a full vote.

“There are a lot of things to consider,” he explained. “You’ve got to see if you have the support to do it. How much does it cost? If [passed], you’re going to have to get someone to make the statue before shipping it or moving it up there. There’s just a lot of variables to look at it.”

While Shanks did not say one way or another on which way he would vote, the Republican did vouch for one famous Mississippian if lawmakers were to decide to replace the statues.

“I’ll be real honest with you. If anything does pass, one of them is going to be Elvis or nothing,” Shanks said, laughing. “If he isn’t up there, I’m done. That’s something we could discuss and talk about. I would be interested to hear everybody’s opinion on who they think it should be if we get to that point.”

Having Elvis Presley, who was born in Tupelo in 1935 before becoming a worldwide sensation as the King of Rock and Roll, would not be abnormal as other states have gone the artist route before. Arkansas, alongside its new statue of Bates, is scheduled to install a Johnny Cash statue in Congress this September after lawmakers there decided to replace statues of former Gov. James Paul Clarke and former Arkansas Bar Association president Uriah M. Rose.

Each state is allowed two statues inside the National Statuary Hall’s collection with other Southern states such as Florida and Virginia approving measures in recent years to replace Confederate statues.

After the interview, Shanks said it was worth mentioning that he might be in favor of Mississippi implementing a measure in which lawmakers must switch out future statues every so often. He did not clarify what the timeline would look like, but per U.S. legislation enacted in 2000, replacement statues can only be approved if their predecessors have been in the Capitol for at least 10 years as of the time the request is made.

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