Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill in Congress Tuesday officially calling for the removal of a statue of the Scottish Rite's sage Albert Pike from Judicial Square in Washington, D.C. The 11-foot tall bronze sculpture by Italian artist Gaetano Trentanove was erected in 1901 and donated to the city by the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction to commemorate their 100th anniversary.
The original 'House of the Temple' was actually a series of three connected brownstones diagonally across the street from the statues' present location, which is why Pike is placed there today. In 1901 it stood on a tiny triangular sliver of land next to 433 Third Street NW, at the intersection of Third and D Streets. Because the Federal District is owned and operated by the Congress, it required an act of Congress to place the statue there 118 years ago. It now requires another such act to move or remove it.
|Original House of the Temple at 433 Third Street NW in Judiciary Square.|
Out of their first 90 years, Albert Pike had served as the AASR-SJ's Sovereign Grand Commander for 32 of them—over a third of the Supreme Council's entire lifespan at that time. The original House of the Temple held their headquarters, their auditorium for putting on degrees, their vast and growing library, and Albert Pike lived and died there. So did his TWO successors. That makes this particular corner historically significant.
As the National Parks Service describes it, Pike is portrayed:
“...in civilian dress and presented as a Masonic leader rather than a military man. Pike stands 11 feet tall upon a high granite pedestal. Below his feet about halfway down the west face of the pedestal, sitting on a ledge, is the allegorical Goddess of Masonry, holding the banner of the Scottish Rite. The figure is in Greek dress and posed as looking down. Pike holds a book in his left hand, perhaps his popular Morals and Dogma of Scottish Rite Masonry.”There are eight inscriptions around the corners of its granite base: Author, Poet, Scholar, Soldier, Philanthropist, Philosopher, Jurist, and Orator. On the front is a Latin phrase, Vixit Laborum Ejus Super Stites Sunt Fructus. ("He has lived. The fruits of his labors live after him.") Despite the fact that detractors object to it on the grounds that Pike had served very briefly in the Confederate Army, making it the only statue of a former Confederate soldier in the District, the sculpture does not depict him as a Confederate soldier. There are no references to the Confederacy, and the banner in the hand of the Grecian figure is not a Confederate flag or symbol, but a Scottish Rite one featuring the double-headed eagle. It is purely a Masonic statue.
This current campaign by Norton to remove it dates back to August 2016 at the height of a national call to hide, move or destroy countless Confederate statues commemorating the Civil War. Nevertheless, Norton's bill is only the latest attempt to have Pike scraped off of this historic corner. The statue has been controversial for the last 30 years or more. Fringe politician Lyndon Larouche made an unsuccessful but noisy, high visibility attempt in the 1990s, and it is a frequent target of vandalism.
In 2016, D.C. radio station WTOP reporter Amanda Iacone interviewed Art de Hoyos for a follow up story:
“I think that people have misunderstood the intent of that statue,” said Arturo de Hoyos, grand archivist for the Scottish Rite in D.C.
The Scottish Rite is the largest branch of Freemasonry in the world. And the regional headquarters for the southern half of the United States is based on 16th Street at the House of the Temple, where Pike is interred.
His statue, erected at the dawn of the 20th Century by the Scottish Rite, celebrates his contributions to Freemasonry and his life as a civilian after the war, de Hoyos said.
Still, the organization will support whatever decision is made regarding the statue’s future, he said.
“We certainly don’t want a monument, which was really placed there to honor the fraternity, to be a divisive point within the community on racial matters,” de Hoyos said.
De Hoyos described Pike as a “man of his times,” who was known to abandon ideas and views over the course of his life. That included his views on slavery and he later developed a friendship with a leader of Prince Hall, a black Freemason society.
“Before and during the Civil War, he accepted slavery as a social institution …. He was a person who actually looked forward to a time when slaves would be free men,” de Hoyos said.Norton’s full statement on the removal of the statue is included below:
|Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton|
Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes NortonOn the Introduction of a Bill to Remove the Statue of Confederate General Albert Pike
July 30, 2019
I rise to introduce a bill to require the removal of a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike from federal land near Judiciary Square in the District of Columbia. This statue was authorized, not by the District, but by Congress in 1898, when the District had no home rule. The statue was constructed using both federal and private funds. The Freemasons, of which Pike was a member, donated the majority of the money needed to build and install the statue in 1901. I oppose tearing down Confederate statues, because I believe they should be moved to more appropriate settings, like museums, to avoid erasing an important part of history from which Americans must continue to learn.
Pike was a Confederate general who served dishonorably and was forced to resign in disgrace. It was found that soldiers under his command mutilated the bodies of Union soldiers, and Pike was ultimately imprisoned after his fellow officers reported that he misappropriated funds. Adding to the dishonor of taking up arms against the United States, Pike dishonored even his Confederate military service. He certainly has no claim to be memorialized in the nation’s capital. Even those who do not want Confederate statues removed will have to justify awarding Pike any honor, considering his history.
After meeting with the Freemasons, I believe that the best course of action is to remove the statue and find a more appropriate place for it. The Freemasons themselves support the statue’s removal, given its divisive nature. The D.C. Mayor and the Council also support the removal of the statue.
My bill clarifies that no federal funds may be used to remove the Pike statue. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.
There is much misinformation in her statement, and I discussed the statue, its history, and Pike's past in a much longer article in 2016. See Albert Pike, Statues, History and Hysteria. At the time I wrote that long, long diatribe, the country was enmeshed in statue removal fever, and locally we had just had a spate of bored teenagers vandalizing area statues using the excuse of political "offense" to justify getting drunk and breaking things. A deliberately provocative newspaper "reporter" had even published a helpful list of 'Indianapolis Statues You Might Find Offensive' so they could be more easily targeted for destruction.
The sad truth is that almost no one in America outside of perhaps 1/3 of current US Freemasons - a few hundred thousand at best - know or care who Albert Pike is anymore, including the tiny handful of Masonic members in Congress. In 1901, those numbers were legion. Not anymore. If we're honest, looking out over the back parking lot of the House of the Temple is probably where Pike's statue really belongs today. Although I can convincingly argue its current location is useful to mark the historic location of the former HOT and where he actually lived, worked, and died.
Or as an old indecisive ad executive I used to know frequently waffled, "I feel strongly both ways..."
H/T Mark Tabbert