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Mabel O. Wilson, Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II & Peter Minosh: SAH Scholars on US Capitol's Troubled History

by Carolina R. Miranda | Jan 12, 2021

Column: Yes, the Capitol is a ‘symbol of democracy.’ One with a really troubled history

“Symbol of democracy.”

The phrase echoed in one form or another throughout social media on Wednesday as swarms of Trump supporters smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol building, instigated by a bitter president who refuses to recognize his electoral defeat. Images of extremists sporting MAGA hats and Trump banners, parading around the building — at least one carrying a Confederate battle flag — was a direct assault on democracy’s most potent symbol and, ultimately, democracy itself.

“The Capitol building is the center and sacred symbol of democracy,” tweeted Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida. “Today’s violent actions undermine the principles and values that our nation was founded on.”

Alexander De Croo, prime minister of Belgium, expressed “shock and disbelief at ongoing events at the US Capitol, symbol of American democracy.”

It was a sentiment echoed throughout social media by political leaders, reporters and casual observers alike. The U.S. Capitol, with its graceful Neoclassical architecture, evocative of representative government systems that date back to Classical antiquity, was being invaded by the hordes. What was supposed to be the site of democratic deliberation now featured a screaming shirtless guy in a Mad Max Viking ensemble and a rioter trying to run off with a lectern.

The U.S. Capitol was being debased.

The Capitol is an important symbol of democracy. But it’s a complicated one — “the people’s house” built by slave labor and designed, in countless ways, to erase their presence afterward.

Read the full article with photographs here.

Mabel O. Wilson has been an SAH member since 2012.  She is a Fellow of SAH and delivered the Sekler Talk at the 2020 Virtual Conference.  Irene Cheng has been a member since 2007.  Charles L. Davis II joined SAH in 2009. He is one of the founders of the SAH Affiliate Group:  Race and Architectural History. Peter Minosh joined SAH in 2016.  

 
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