By JOHN FORTMEYER
(UPDATE: Because of the threat of inclement weather, the Nov. 13 commission meeting has been moved to the Oregon Historical Society’s Madison Room, 1200 S.W. Park in Portland, starting at 10 a.m.)
SALEM — Will Oregon pioneer missionary Jason Lee — still honored by many of the state’s Christians as an important reminder of the Northwest’s Christian roots — continue to be depicted with a statue in the nation’s capital?
Oregonians of all ages are being urged right now to express their views on the matter.
The state’s residents can weigh in on whether statues of Lee and Dr. John McLoughlin should continue to represent Oregon in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol Building, or whether those statues should be returned to Oregon and replaced with statues of other historic Oregonians.
A special 10-member commission, chaired by former Willamette University President Jerry Hudson, encourages input from Oregonians, including schoolchildren across the state, as required by executive order from Gov. John Kitzhaber. Two public meetings have already been held, and a third is to take place Thursday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon in the commissioner’s meeting room of the Hood River County Business & Administration Building, 601 State St. in Hood River.
The commission’s work is closely watched by concerned Christians who strongly believe that removal of the Lee statue in D.C. would denigrate Oregon’s spiritual roots by drawing attention away from the state’s Christian heritage.
Their efforts helped halt state legislation the past two years that called for the Lee statue to be replaced with a statue of the late Mark Hatfield, longtime U.S. senator and two-term governor.
One of the past hearings took place Monday, Oct. 6 at the State Capitol in Salem. Janice Dysinger of Salem, one of those who attended and who opposes replacing the Lee statue, told Christian News Northwest that about 20 people showed up besides historians who were invited by the commission to testify. Of the attenders who spoke, all but two were opposed to replacing Lee, she said.
Dysinger said the historians were “very negative” about Lee, and that they claimed he was among those in that era who believed in white male rule and looked down upon the Native cultures.
“But everything I have read about him says that he saw us all as God’s people,” said Dysinger. “He honored God’s calling on his life. I think he petitioned the U.S. for statehood as he thought that was the best protection for these folks.”
At the request of the commission, the Oregon Historical Society added a special section to its website —www.ohs.org — which will allow Oregonians to access biographies of McLoughlin and Lee, as well as biographies of Oregonians who historians and various historic organizations have recommended as possible replacements. Those accessing the website can express their opinion on the question of the retention or replacement of the current statues, and the question of possible replacements.
“I invite all Oregonians to join in this fascinating conversation on our state’s history, heritage, and shared values,” said Hudson. “I especially encourage schoolteachers across Oregon to ensure that Oregon’s future — our youth — become involved in this conversation.”
In 1864, the United States Congress passed legislation converting the former House of Representatives chamber into a venue for displaying statues of citizens from each state “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” The National Statuary Hall collection now includes 100 statues contributed by the 50 states.
Legislation enacted by Congress in 2000 provided procedures for states to reclaim a statue in the collection and replace it with a new statue. Seven states have since replaced statues.
Oregon pioneers McLoughlin and Lee were selected by the 1921 state Legislature to represent Oregon in the collection. This past August, Kitzhaber established the commission and assigned it the task of reporting to the upcoming legislative assembly whther the statues of McLoughlin or Lee should be returned home, and, if so, who should be sent as a replacement statue.
Oregonians can also share their opinions by writing to: Statuary Hall Study Commission; c/o Oregon Historical Society; 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland, OR 97205.