Skip to content

In the News

Pa. House bill would honor Gold Star families, first Black speaker on Capitol grounds

Apr 08 2024
Jan Murphy | Penn Live Patriot-News

Legislation approved by the state House of Representatives on Monday would establish a monument on the Capitol Complex grounds as a tribute to Gold Star families and designate an area of the lawn in honor of the state’s first Black House speaker.

The proposed monument to the Gold Star families would be located in the area between the Forum Building and Walnut Street, according to the legislation sponsored by Rep. Joe Kerwin, R-Dauphin County, who is currently deployed with the National Guard to East Africa. It passed 201-0.

“Gold Star families must face a new reality each day carrying on without their loved one,” said Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington County, in urging his colleagues to support the bill. “We honor many things in this building, often in the form of designating a certain day or week to celebrate people, cultures and convictions. I think it is significant and wholly appropriate that we honor the sacrifices of brave men and women with a permanent memorial.”

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County said Pennsylvania has 36,584 Gold Star families dating to World War II who will be honored by this memorial.

The legislation indicates the monument, designed by Woody Williams and Kenton Blackwood, would consist of four black granite slabs inscribed with the words “Gold Star Family Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Mothers, Fathers and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom” on one side. Four scenes depicting Homeland, Patriot, Family, Sacrifice would be displayed on each panel on the other side.

The monument’s construction will be funded by MI Charitable Foundation of Gratz, the philanthropic arm of MITER Brands, a window and door manufacturer, according to the legislation.

The House voted 200-1 on a bill to designate the grassy area between the Speaker K. Leroy Irvis Office Building and Walnut Street known as the South Lawn as the Irvis Equality Circle.

That area of the Capitol grounds features four bronze life-size depictions of abolitionists and famed orators with ties to the region and Pennsylvania.

The monument, erected in 2020, commemorates the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed Black people the right to vote and the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote. It also pays homage to African American residents of the Old Eighth Ward, cleared more than a century ago for the Capitol park.

Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, who sponsored the legislation, noted in his floor remarks the significance in naming it after Irvis, who served as the House speaker in 1977 and again from 1983-1988. Kinsey spoke of Irvis’ advocacy for civil rights, social justice and education and helped pass legislation for fair housing and employment opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.

He asked his colleagues to support the bill in “recognition of one of our own. A gentleman who served this state and country with great distinction.”

Rep. Wendy Fink, R-York County, cast the sole dissenting vote on this bill.

Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration.