Alabama is “updating its historical presence in the U.S. Capitol, swapping out a statue of a former congressman for a new bronze likeness of Helen Keller,” the AP reports.
The Keller statue, unveiled yesterday, is the first in the National Statuary Hall Collection depicting a person with a disability and the only one of a child. Showing Keller as a 7-year-old girl, it replaces one of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, a former Confederate officer, educator, ambassador and preacher who advocated for free universal education.
Each state “has two statues in the Capitol as part of the Capitol collection, which was permanent until 1992, when Congress allowed for changes.” The monument to Keller will permanently reside in the Main Hall of the new 580,000-square-foot Capitol Visitor’s Center.
Below are the Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remarks at the unveiling:
“Members of House and Senate Leadership, Governor Riley, President Augusto and members of the Keller family: What a great day this is for America in the Capitol of the United States as we honor Helen Keller.
“Most people know about Helen Keller as a child – full of curiosity and wonder at the world that was opened to her. Today we recognize her as that child, but also as the woman she became: civic-minded, politically active, and a standard bearer for the great causes of her age and of ours.
“As Helen Keller said: ‘My sympathies are with all who struggle for justice.’ In her lifetime, Helen Keller worked for opportunity for people with disabilities, for racial equality, and for the rights of women.
“In demonstrating that passion that she had, Helen Keller, in this statue in the Capitol, will always remind us that people must be respected for what they can do, rather than judged for what they cannot. Helen Keller ignited a century marked by progress for people with disabilities. We have made progress rooted in our national ideal that we are all created equal.
“For more than 30 years, a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities has been required. For almost 20 years, fundamental civil rights for people with disabilities have been assured by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For a generation, closed captioning for televisions and relay services have helped remove barriers to participation in society. Let me also thank our signers who are here today.
“And just last year – under the leadership of Majority Leader Hoyer and Congressman Sensenbrenner – Congress reasserted protections for anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability.
“But more needs to be done. To honor Helen Keller’s life, I know that our nation will continue its bipartisan commitment to ensuring full participation for people with disabilities in all aspects of our society.
“As science advances and technology opens new doors of opportunity, we must ensure that our laws keep pace with these new developments so their benefits are available to all people. We must remove all barriers to people with disabilities, so that they are able to exercise their right to vote, engage with public officials, run for office, and fully participate in the economic, social, and cultural opportunities that the Internet provides.
“In regard to these new opportunities, I am proud to tell you, in case you do not know, that soon the podium of the U.S. House of Representatives will be adjusted so persons with disabilities may preside over the proceedings of House of Representatives.
“I’ll join my colleagues in quoting Mark Twain, who once wrote that ‘Helen Keller is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakespeare, and the rest of the immortals.’ As Steny said: ‘She will be as famous a thousand years from now as she is today.’
“Helen Keller’s life is an example of determination and strength. Here, in this temple of our democracy, year after year, day after day, Helen Keller’s statue will stand as a testament to her strength and to the American ideal of equality, which she promoted.”