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Legislature approves resolution to put Coleman Young statue in U.S. Capitol

Detroit Historical Society
Coleman Young.

The Michigan Legislature has taken a key step toward placing a new statue representing the state in the U.S. Capitol. The Legislature has adopted a resolution to replace a statue of Lewis Cass with one of the late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.

The Cass statue is one of two in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall representing Michigan. The other is President Gerald Ford.

Cass was a Michigan territorial governor, US Senator, and served in the cabinets of two presidents. He was also the Democratic Party’s 1848 nominee for President and a U.S. ambassador to France.

He was also a slaveowner who held it should be up to states to decide whether slavery would be allowed under a doctrine known as “popular sovereignty.” As President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, he executed the policy of removing Native Americans from their homelands.

Democratic Senator Adam Hollier, who sponsored the resolution, said it’s time for Michigan to choose someone else to represent the state in Statuary Hall.

“So right now, if you go to the nation’s Capitol, you get to see a giant marble statue of somebody who believed that slavery should be expanded and that Native American peoples were savages and could never be civilized,” he said. “From now on, when you go to DC and you see that statue, that’s what you’ll google. That’s what you’ll see. That’s the story you’ll be telling.”

Young’s resume includes Detroit’s first Black mayor, Tuskegee Airman in World War Two, Michigan state senator and standing up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s.

“It was important for us to start to talk about who we’re going to lift up as an indicator of our values and our state,” he said.

The next step is for Governor Gretchen Whitmer to approve the request and inform the Architect of the Capitol that Michigan plans to switch out the statue of Cass. That request must also be approved by the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress.

Those steps are considered pro forma.

Once the Young statue is completed and installed, the statue of Cass will be returned to Michigan.

The process will take years to complete. There will be a fundraising campaign, a sculptor will have to be hired and the design approved.

In 2020, the state government’s Lewis Cass Building in Lansing was re-named the Elliott-Larsen Building for the sponsors of Michigan’s signature civil rights law.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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