When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite places to take visitors was Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Statuary Hall is the former location of the House of Representatives chamber and is now the home of dozens of statues of American luminaries. Most of the statues are bronze or marble; the notable exception that I recall was the towering black and gold depiction of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I, who looked like he could have walked off the pedestal and competed successfully in the Arnold bodybuilding competition.
Many of the individuals depicted in the collected statues have long since faded into obscurity. Most of them are politicians, and some of them are a bit embarrassing to see displayed so prominently at the seat of our Nation’s government because of their support for slavery. One such example is William Allen, who served as Governor of Ohio from 1874 to 1876 and was pro-slavery and opposed to the Civil War. Allen is one of only two Ohioans in Statuary Hall; the other is former President James Garfield. Allen is an exceptionally bad choice to represent Ohio, which was home to the Underground Railroad, to countless men who fought and died in the Civil War, and to many of the Union’s most successful generals, including Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
Appropriately, the powers that be have decided to remove the statue of Allen and pick from a list of 10 Ohioans who are viewed as better representing the values and heritage of modern Ohioans. The list of candidates is interesting: James Ashley, Thomas Edison, Ulysses Grant, William McCulloch, Jesse Owens, Judith Resnick, Albert Sabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Taylor Upton, and Wilbur and Orville Wright. Some of these names are familiar, others less so. James Ashley was a prominent 19th century abolitionist and politician, William McCulloch was a civil rights activist who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 25 years, Judith Resnick was an astronaut who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion, Albert Sabin was the medical researcher who developed the oral vaccine for polio, and Harriet Taylor Upton was a leading proponent of women’s suffrage.
Ohioans will get to influence the final selection through a popular vote. I think all 10 are worthy candidates, but my preference would be for Thomas Edison, Jesse Owens, or Albert Sabin. There already are more than enough politicians in Statuary Hall. Adding an inventor and businessman who brought electric light to the world, or an athlete whose Olympic triumph electrified the world and exposed the stupidity of the racial superiority rantings of the Nazi regime, or a researcher whose hard work and inspiration freed millions from the debilitating effects of a terrible disease, would be fitting reflection of the many contributions that The Buckeye State has made to America.