Missouri Senate votes to send Harry Truman back to DC

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Harry Truman is headed back to Washington.

A statue of Truman, the nation’s 33rd president who ended World War II after authorizing the use of atomic bombs against Japan, is set to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol next year. Every state gets to choose two statues for the National Statuary Hall Collection, and Missouri has displayed the same two men since the end of the 19th century. Missouri leaders thought it was time that Truman, who they called the most important statesman the state has produced, was represented there.

Alex Burden, the executive director of the Truman Library Institute, said they had raised more than $300,000 to pay for the statue and fielded five artist proposals, four of them from Missouri.

But the choice of which statue Truman should kick out is not clean-cut.

Truman will displace Francis Preston Blair, Jr. or Thomas Hart Benton. Both men were U.S. Senators, war-time soldiers and slavery opponents.

Yet before Benton spoke so stridently against the expansion of slavery that voters kicked him out of Congress, he inherited two slaves. And while Blair was instrumental in keeping Missouri out of the Confederacy, he once campaigned for office on the premise that black people were part of “a semi-barbarous race.”

“Tragically, a controversy has arisen over which of the individuals honoured by Missouri represents the greatest level of racism,” U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver said in a statement in April.

Cleaver supports kicking out Blair, and years ago Missouri lawmakers approved that swap. A new proposal in the Legislature, however, would instead remove Benton, and for partisan, not racial, reasons.

The question comes amid a national debate over what historical figures should, and should not, be on public display. Confederate statues all over the country have been removed and vandalized.

James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical …read more

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