Honoring Someone Truly Great

If you’re a West Virginian looking around the U.S. Capitol, among the sights you may want to see are statues of two native sons. Each state has two, of people in whom great pride is taken.

Francis H. Pierpont, in some ways thought of as the father of West Virginia, is one of the Mountain State’s statues. It is located in Statuary Hall, quite an honor, given the fact that only 38 of the state representatives stand there. The other 62 are scattered in several other Capitol locations. Pierpont was and is an appropriate choice for one of our statues.

The other is …

Well, you know. Don’t you?

Probably not. West Virginia’s second statue in the Capitol is John Kenna.

I’m going to guess very few West Virginians ever heard of Kenna.

There’s a good reason for that. Kenna, a Confederate veteran, became a Kanawha County politician after the Civil War. He was shrewd enough, during a time when Republicans dominated state and national politics, to see possibilities in the Democratic Party. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1883 until his death in 1893.

That’s about it. With all due respect, Kenna wasn’t all that great. Think of the late Robert C. Byrd if you want a truly great senator from West Virginia.

Surely there’s another West Virginian more suitable than Kenna to represent us in the Capitol.

People in the states sometimes change their minds about their two Capitol statues. Ohio did just a few years ago, sending a new sculpture of Thomas A. Edison to Washington. It replaced former Gov. William Allen, who had pro-slavery views.

So why on earth should Mountain State residents stick with Kenna, who, after all, fought for the Confederacy and its goal of perpetuating slavery?

We can do better. Easily. And we can help rectify an imbalance.

Of the 100 state statues in the Capitol, just eight are of women. Why not pick a Mountain State woman to replace Kenna?

What about Anna Jarvis, of Grafton? She spent years campaigning for a national Mother’s Day observance. It came into being in 1914, through an act of Congress.

Or Pearl S. Buck, of Pocahontas County. She won both a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize for her writing. Her novel, “The Good Earth,” and other works about China helped Americans understand the people who have emerged as this country’s primary economic challenge.

Another of Buck’s books, “What America Means to Me,” tackled serious concerns before most people were willing to think about the issues. “Race prejudice is not only a shadow over the colored — it is a shadow over all of us, and the shadow is darkest over those who feel it least and allow its evil effects to go on,” she wrote — in 1944.

There are other possibilities. Here in Wheeling, frontier heroine Betty Zane would be a popular choice.

Ruby Bradley, of Spencer, would be good. Bradley, who died in 2002, was among the most decorated women in U.S. military history.

There are many other possibilities — all more appropriate than Kenna.

Why not send one of them to the Capitol, joining the many other truly great Americans honored there?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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