Dayton man defends keeping McCarran statue in Washington
DAYTON — A Nevada man who was a teenager when he saw Sen. Pat McCarran die from a heart attack after a speech in 1954 is speaking out against a push by three U.S. House members to remove his statute from the U.S. Capitol because of his racist reputation.
William Pyatt of Dayton said his family members were friends of McCarran. He was 14 years old when he sat with his mother to hear the senator speak at the Civic Center in Hawthorne, where he collapsed and died at age 78 moments after completing his remarks.
Pyatt, who is now 76, says McCarran’s reputation has been blown out of proportion. He says some of the statesmen honored in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall were slave owners, including Robert E. Lee and George Washington .
“Any time he was around our house he never said anything like that,” Pyatt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think they should leave well enough alone.”
McCarran, a Reno native who served as a Democrat in the Senate from 1933 until his death, had his statue added to the hall in 1960.
Three Nevada lawmakers this month called for the Nevada Legislature to replace McCarran’s statue with someone more deserving.
While he fought for workers’ rights and helped shape the country’s aviation industry, McCarran left a legacy of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, said the letter sent Jan. 10 by Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen.
Nevada state legislative leaders say they will pursue the request.
Pyatt, a long time Democrat who is now a Republican, said his mother, Martha Lynn Gustafson, was heavily involved in Democratic Party politics and knew McCarran well in the 1940s and 1950s. She took Pyatt to the political event, which also featured prominent Nevada Democrats Vail Pittman and Walter Baring.
Pyatt said he recalled McCarran being a boisterous, larger-than-life type of individual.
“He carried himself very well,” Pyatt said. “I will be honest with you, when he came to the house and talked to my mother, he scared the hell out of me. He was so loud and boisterous.”
In order to replace the statue, the state Legislature must pass a resolution identifying the statue to be replaced along with the name of the replacement, and several other requirements.
Each state is invited to place two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Nevada added its second honoree in 2005 with a statue of 19th century Northern Paiute author and educator Sarah Winnemucca.
While Pyatt said he never heard McCarran make disparaging comments, the Review-Journal cited numerous instances of the senator’s anti-Semitic statements and actions, including:
When President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Jerome Frank for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, McCarran delayed the nomination. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes wrote in his diary that it was being “held up by McCarran because Frank is a Jew.”
According to investigative reporter Jack Anderson, “McCarran once summoned (Secretary of the Interior) Oscar Chapman to his office. McCarran then ordered Chapman to fire the Jewish solicitor-general; otherwise McCarran threatened to cut the Interior Department’s budget.”
McCarran told his daughter Mary, a nun who later left the sisterhood, “You say you want to go to Holy Land. The Jews and Arabs are at war over there. And you can’t see the barn where He was born any way. They tore it down and the Jews sold it for firewood and made one hundred percent profit on it a long time ago.”
Pyatt said that if McCarran’s statue is removed, other historic figures represented in the Capitol should be reconsidered as well.
“Robert E. Lee is in there,” he said. “George Washington is in there. They were both slave owners.”