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From Dave Grohl to Edna Lewis, Virginians suggest replacements for Lee statue at U.S. Capitol

From Dave Grohl to Edna Lewis, Virginians suggest replacements for Lee statue at U.S. Capitol

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The panel charged with recommending a replacement for Virginia’s Robert E. Lee statue at the U.S. Capitol says the designee can be someone known for “significant ideals, writings, and/or intellectual thought.”

A Fairfax County resident suggests a Grohl model — as in Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters front man who first gained fame with Nirvana. Grohl was born in Ohio, but grew up in Springfield.

Grohl “has made significant cultural contributions” to Virginia and the world, Thomas McCurdy wrote to the Commission For Historical Statues In The United States Capitol. He added that Grohl is “someone you will not need to worry about having protracted political debates over.”

Fortunately, like Doug Wilder, the nation’s first elected African American governor, Grohl is ineligible for the honor. People depicted on statues in the Statuary Hall collection must be deceased, according to rules set out by the architect of the U.S. Capitol.

The Virginia commission has not yet set the date of the December meeting in which it will choose an honoree to recommend to the General Assembly.

Correspondence to the panel suggests many lesser known Virginia luminaries in addition to the most frequently mentioned names, such as civil rights attorney Oliver W. Hill Sr., teenage civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.

Here are some suggested names with which readers might not be as familiar:

Ana Whitehead Bodeker

  • , a pioneering activist, was the first president of the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association. She brought Susan B. Anthony to speak in Richmond in 1870.

Mary Bowser

  • , also known as Mary Jane Richards, was born enslaved in Richmond. She was a key member of a pro-Union spy ring headed by Elizabeth Van Lew.
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William Harvey Carney

  • , born enslaved in Norfolk, was a Civil War soldier in the famed 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment. He received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in saving the regiment’s American flag during the unsuccessful 1863 assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

Robert Carter III

  • , a wealthy landowner on the Northern Neck, took legal action in 1791 to free 500 enslaved African Americans. According to Encyclopedia Virginia: “It is probably the largest emancipation by an individual person in the United States before 1860.”

Bernard S. Cohen

  • was one of the lawyers who represented Mildred and Richard Loving before the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark 1967 case struck down Virginia’s law barring interracial marriage and voided enforcement of such laws in more than a dozen other states. Cohen, who died last month, represented Alexandria in the House of Delegates for 16 years.

Thomas William Fox

  • , a Quaker and peace activist from Frederick County, was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005. His body was found in March 2006.

Peter Francisco

  • , born in Portugal and raised in Buckingham County, was a storied fighter in the Revolutionary War, who stood 6 feet 6 inches tall. George Washington called him “truly a one-man Army.”

Bruce M. Garnett

  • was an early advocate for gay and lesbian rights in Virginia. Garnett was slain in Chesterfield County in 2017.

Mary Jackson

  • , born in Hampton, was the first African American female engineer at NASA. She was among the aerospace pioneers featured in the book and movie “Hidden Figures.” In June, NASA announced that its headquarters building in Washington would be named for Jackson.

Ona Judge

  • , born at Mount Vernon, fled enslavement by America’s first family in 1796 as President George Washington and first lady Martha Washington planned to return from Philadelphia to Washington.

Henrietta Lacks

  • , who died of cancer in 1951, never knew that cell tissue harvested without her permission would make extraordinary contributions to medical science. Lacks was born in Roanoke and grew up in Halifax County.

James Armistead Lafayette

  • , born enslaved in New Kent County, was a spy during the Revolutionary War who aided the Marquis de Lafayette. He gained entrance to British camps by posing as a runaway slave.

Edna Lewis

  • was a celebrated African American chef, restaurateur and cookbook author from Freetown in Orange County. She championed seasonal cooking well before the farm-to-table movement and presented a multifaceted version of Southern cuisine.

Robert Merhige

  • was a federal judge in Richmond, perhaps best known for his host of school desegregation rulings. He also ruled in 1970 that the University of Virginia had to admit women.

Virginia Minor

  • , born in Caroline County, was a noted suffragist. She tried to register to vote in St. Louis in 1872, was denied and went to court, saying the 14th amendment (equal protection of the laws) gave her the right. She lost in the U.S. Supreme Court but is honored with a bronze bust at the Missouri state Capitol.

George Henry Thomas

  • , born in Southampton County, was a Union major general who played a key role in the Western theater and was known as “the rock of Chickamauga.”

Roger Arliner Young

  • , born in Alleghany County, was a pioneering scientist and the first African American woman who earned a doctorate in zoology.

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Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD


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