Advance Notice: Briefs

Senate OKs measure to replace Lewis Cass statue in D.C. with Coleman Young 

By: - July 2, 2022 4:34 am

Coleman A. Young of Detroit as a Michigan state senator in 1973. | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University photo

The Michigan Senate on Thursday adopted a resolution that requests the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to approve the replacement of Michigan’s statue of Lewis Cass with one of former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.

“Coleman A. Young was not only the first Black mayor of Detroit, but also an incredible political force in Michigan and an icon for our state’s Civil Rights movement,” said Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), the measure’s sponsor. “The late mayor fully integrated the police force, provided new city job opportunities for women and Black residents, and provided an unprecedented amount of city contracts to minority-owned businesses. When you contrast that to Lewis Cass — a slave owner who served as Secretary of War during President Andrew Jackson’s forced migration of Native Americans — it’s clear Michigan must find a better representative to serve in the National Statuary Hall Collection.”

Lewis Cass statue in the U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Young, a Democratic Michigan state senator during the 1960s and early ‘70s, went on to serve as Detroit mayor from 1974 to 1994. The World War II veteran and labor activist died in 1997 at age 79. 

Past practice is that the party in state power makes the decision which statues sit in National Statuary Hall, according to Hollier. The National Statuary Hall Collection was authorized by Congress in 1864 to allow each state to provide two statues of notable citizens for display in the U.S. Capitol.

Michigan offered its other statue of GOP former President Gerald Ford in 2011. It replaced one of Republican former Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler.  

Cass was a former Michigan territorial governor, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state. He was also a slave owner and was the architect of the infamous “Trail of Tears” that forced Native Americans from southern states west of the Mississippi River so that whites could grow cotton. A Detroit high school, a city street and a Michigan county are all named after him.

“I am grateful to my colleagues for their support in erecting a statue of one of our country’s most influential mayors of the 20th century,” Hollier said. “The work that Mayor Young did for the city should never be forgotten. I hope to see this Detroit and Michigan political giant stand tall next to President Gerald Ford in the nation’s statue collection.”

The resolution moves to the state House for consideration. Hollier is confident that the measure will be approved in the opposite chamber. House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) did not respond to a request for comment.  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.