Following his four-year tenure as the governor of Texas, Ross served as one of the earliest presidents of the university’s precursor — the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas — from 1891 until his death in 1898.
Credited by many for saving the school from permanent closure, alumni of the college rallied to raise funds for a monument. In 1917, the state spent $10,000 to shortly thereafter erect the statue.
The statue has become an icon to students, with many leaving pennies on it around exam time — a tradition stemming from Ross telling students he tutored that he wanted no pay but “a penny for your thoughts.”
But on the morning of June 10 this year, his statue was found covered with graffiti reading “racist,” “BLM” (short for “Black Lives Matter”), and “ACAB” (an acronym for a vulgar phrase vilifying police), and it was topped with a rainbow-colored hat.
In light of the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing conversations about race relations in the United States, there have been many calls throughout Texas to remove or relocate Confederate monuments, such as in Tarrant and Denton counties.
The statue of Ross has been targeted with criticism, due in large part to the fact that he served as a general for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Criticism of the statue’s presence is not new, though.
Calls for its removal were made in 2017, but John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, reportedly said it would not be removed.
“Anyone who knows the true history of Lawrence Sullivan Ross would never ask his statue to be removed,” said Sharp.
Texas A&M University President Michael Young issued a similar remark praising Ross at the time, saying, “Without Sul Ross, neither Texas A&M University nor Prairie View A&M University would likely exist today. He saved our school and Prairie View through his consistent advocacy in the face of those who persistently wanted to close us down.”
Even earlier, in 1998, the statue was criticized with allegations that Ross was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, though no clear evidence proves that claim.
After those allegations, a committee recommended the construction of a statue of Matthew Gaines, an African American state senator in Texas who strongly supported the legislation that led to the creation of the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas.
The project was abandoned, however, in light of an unrelated tragedy with the annual “Aggie Bonfire” that left twelve people dead and a few dozen others injured.
Texas A&M has returned to the prospect of building a statue in honor of Gaines, though.
Students at the university have launched the Matthew Gaines Initiative to raise funds for the project with a target goal of $350,000.
Collectively, the offices of Sharp and Young have contributed $225,000 to the initiative.
“As we soon close the gap for funding and accept artist bids, I look forward to working with students and Dr. [Danny] Pugh, who has been working with them, on this important representation on our campus,” said Young.
Supporting the construction of a statue honoring Gaines is just one of several steps — including the dedication of $100 million to a “diversity issues” scholarship fund — Young says he is taking to address racism on campus.
With respect to the Ross statue, Young has created two task forces that will “include current and former students, faculty, staff[,] and relevant subject matter experts.”
A task force on race relations will help “address racist behavior,” while a “commission on historic representations” will review historical structures in the context of the campus and “suggest appropriate courses of action with respect to each of them.”
Young said that the latter group would be asked “to begin with making a recommendation on the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue in the near future.”
“It is time for a unified approach on how we address the representation of people who contributed to Texas A&M throughout our history and how we want to shape the expectations and behavior of our community to stand firmly against racism,” said Young.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.