Florida State University President John Thrasher announced this week that the university will be removing a controversial statue of one of its founders, Francis W. Eppes.
Eppes was the grandson of former President Thomas Jefferson and owned up to 91 slaves. He was on the side of the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War and has been called “especially racist” by Thrasher. He was a mayor of Tallahassee and donated money and land, which led to the creation of Florida State University.
A student referendum in 2016 shot down plans to remove the statue with 71 percent of students voting to keep the statue in place. Thrasher, advised by his Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions, decided the statue will be removed because, in addition to his racism, Eppes’ role as founder is “overstated.”
College Republicans of FSU released a statement regarding this decision. They claimed the president had “...(caved) to the whims of a loud minority...” and “...it simply ignores (Eppes’) generosity.”
The issued statement has some logical flaws. It says that “today is a dark moment in the otherwise shining history of Florida State University,” but then goes on to say “we don’t condone Mr. Eppes’s ownership of slaves...” This doesn’t make sense because it was directly Eppes ownership of slaves and the land that he owned as a plantation that allowed him to form the university. Calling this history a “shining” one seems like a reach.
Then the letter quotes George Santayana saying “‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ We can only pray — likely futilely — that we will be an exception to this rule.” Likely futilely? What does that mean? Are they saying they see some kind of slavery comeback in the future? In this statement they have indirectly acknowledged that certain members of the country are open to returning to a state of discrimination and oppression.
The College Republicans of FSU have failed to understand the importance of context in history. By removing the statue, Thrasher’s intentions were not to erase history. There is a difference between remembering and honoring. In this country, a statute is reserved as a symbol of honor. We raise memorials to people who should be example citizens. Choosing not to honor someone doesn’t equate to forgetting history.
In 2017, only 8.3 percent of students at FSU were black. This makes the fact that only 29 percent of students voted for the removal unsurprising. Black students make up a minority of the school, but I think their say in the matter should be considered equally if not more than non-black students because their ancestors could have been directly oppressed by Eppes. Not to mention the hostile on-campus environment that could be created because of an intimidating statue that almost encourages racism.
There are plenty of ways to acknowledge Eppes’ good deeds while providing context. When we talk about how he contributed to the creation of FSU, we have to tell the story from all angles. Explaining the fact that he owned slaves puts the story into the true context and allows people to make up their own minds as to his character. Accurate history is taught through honest textbooks and museums — not by glorifying individuals with icons.
Layla Soboh is a UF advertising junior. Her column comes out Tuesday and Thursday.