Bilbo moves again: Segregationist’s statue will leave Capitol for Two Museums’ basement
The bronze statue of one of the state’s most notorious racists, Theodore Bilbo, is being moved from its utility room in the Capitol to storage in the basement of the Two Mississippi Museums.
Katie Blount, executive director of the state Department of Archives and History, confirmed that the Department of Finance and Administration is moving the 5 feet 2 inches tall statue to a basement underneath the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.
Blount said there is no plan to publicly display the statue that for decades was on display in the Mississippi Capitol. The statue was secretly moved in late 2020 from Room 113 to a secret location that was later revealed to be in a closet or storage room behind the elevator on the House side of the Capitol.
House Clerk Andrew Ketchings later confirmed that he acted on his own to move the statue from its public display. Ketchings, a former Republican House member who was elected to his position managing the day-to-day operations of the House by the members of the chamber, said he moved the statue because he did not believe it was appropriate for such a divisive figure to be on display in the Capitol.
State Rep. Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, said he was considering filing legislation to do just what is in the process of happening with the Bilbo sculpture.
“After the Bilbo statue was moved I had a (Bilbo) family member/friend who reached out to me to bring forth legislation this upcoming session to move the Bilbo statue. The plan was to move the statue to the Two Museums. He felt that it was would be a good way to move his family name as well as the state of Mississippi forward,” Shanks said.
All former governors have portraits on display on the first floor of the Capitol. But at the time Bilbo was moved, the only other statue in the building was a bust of former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy — one of a handful of women elected to statewide office in Mississippi.
A Memphis company, Art Logistics International, moved the sculpture to the storage area on the first floor of the Capitol on a Saturday when the building was not in use. The company also will be moving the statue to the Two Mississippi Museums. The first move, by the company which specializes in moving pieces of art, cost between $4,000 and $5,000. It is not known at this time what the upcoming move will cost.
The statue is owned by the DFA, but Archives and History has agreed to store it.
Bilbo served two terms as Mississippi governor in the 1920s and 30s and was later elected three times as U.S. senator. Among his many egregiously racist actions, he advocated for the deportation of Black Americans to Africa and fought national efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation.
Bilbo died of throat cancer in 1947 in the midst of efforts by his colleague to not seat him in the Senate after his most recent election victory. Soon after Bilbo’s death, a joint resolution adopted by the Mississippi Legislature in 1948 established a commission to memorialize the former governor who, according to the resolution, “worked unceasingly and often alone to preserve Southern customs and traditions and in so doing sought to preserve the true American way of life … and particularly his efforts to preserve this state and nation by his successful fight against the enactment of national legislation, which would have destroyed the United State of America, if the same had been enacted.”
The resolution called for the statue to be placed “in a prominent place on the first floor of the new Capitol building.”
For decades the statue was displayed prominently in the Capitol rotunda. But in the early 1980s while the Capitol was closed for renovations, then-Gov. William Winter ordered the statue to be moved to Room 113 – at the time a seldom-used room in the building.
In more recent times, Room 113 has become the location for meetings of multiple House committees and caucuses, including the Legislative Black Caucus.