With memorials and symbols of the Confederacy under renewed fire, several top national Democrats have joined Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond in calls to clear Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building, taking aim at the bronze and marble figures of major military and political leaders of the rebellion against the United States.
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But alongside the likes of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler in the Capitol's Statuary Hall stands a Louisianian whose ties to the Confederacy are far less prominent: Edward Douglass White Jr.
Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, didn't single out White by name in brief remarks Monday on the Capitol's collection of statues. Nor did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, both of whom issued calls of their own on Thursday. Each described the dozen statues of men who served in the Confederacy as monuments to slavery and white supremacy.
And while the figures of those more completely associated with the South's failed rebellion have attracted much of the attention, the statue to White — who fought on the losing side of the Civil War as a teenager before rising to chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court — may also be in the crosshairs.
"We will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States in order to keep African Americans in chains," Richmond told ABC News on Monday. "By the way, thank God, they lost."
A spokeswoman for Richmond said his comments applied to "all members of the Confederacy" when asked specifically about White.
Historians, though, said White's legacy is marked far more by his political rise after the Civil War — a close ally of Gov. Francis T. Nicholls, White briefly served on the state Supreme Court and in the U.S. Senate. White served 27 years on the U.S. Supreme Court until his death in 1921.
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White is also honored with a statue in front of the Louisiana Supreme Court building in New Orleans on Royal Street, erected not long after his death.
The selection of statues in the U.S. Capitol is controlled by state governments under current rules, with each state allowed to send monuments to two prominent former citizens to the hall, though action by Congress could change the procedure.
A spokeswoman for Richmond said the Black Caucus doesn't have plans to push legislative action, noting that Republican leaders in the House — who've fought previous efforts to remove Confederate statues — would need to back any attempts at changing the rules.
The son of a former Louisiana governor and Lafourche Parish sugar plantation owner, White was 16 years old and studying at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., when Louisiana voted to secede from the United States. He hurried home and, by most accounts, promptly joined the Confederate army, rising to the rank of lieutenant before being captured at the Battle of Port Hudson, although the exact details of White's war record are in dispute.
White was still six months shy of his 20th birthday when the Civil War ended.
After the war, he began to practice law before playing a prominent role among the "Redeemer" politicians whose rise to power in the 1870s brought about the end of Reconstruction and returned Louisiana to rule under white Democrats.
"He was a Redeemer and proud of it, like many of the men of his generation and his class," said Larry Powell, a Tulane University historian.
He was serving in the U.S. Senate when President Grover Cleveland tapped him for the U.S. Supreme Court.
White's record during his time on the high court is both complicated and voluminous — he is perhaps best known for crafting one of the bedrock principles of American anti-trust law, 'the rule of reason,' and authored a major unanimous decision striking down the use of "grandfathering" by Southern states to strip blacks of voting rights.
But his vote with the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 — which upheld racial segregation — casts a shadow on his legacy.
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In the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, the Supreme Court upheld New Orleans' law racially segregating streetcars, rejecting a challenge to the racist law by Homer Plessy and the Comité des Citoyens. White also cast votes in a number of subsequent decisions upholding racial segregation, including Berea College v. Kentucky, which allowed the state to force the previously integrated school to exclude black students.
"He certainly was a white supremacist and he certainly was a conservative," said Jonathan H. Earle, a LSU historian.
"But he's not Nathan Bedford Forrest," Earle added, referring to the Confederate cavalry commander who was a prominent early member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Louisiana placed the statue of White in the Capitol in 1955, joining a far more famous Louisianian — Huey P. Long — whose statue was sent to Washington in 1941.
White's arrival in Statuary Hall came less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously voted to overturn Plessy in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which found segregated public schools to be unconstitutional.