MADISON – Abraham Lincoln is the next historical figure whose statue deserves removal, some University of Wisconsin-Madison students say.
Students in the UW-Madison’s Black student union are calling on university officials to remove the statue of the nation’s 16th president – a campus symbol that has sat atop Bascom Hill for more than a century and represented good luck for students before exams and after graduation.
It’s beloved for many students on a campus that enrolls mostly white teens, reminding them of Lincoln’s successful effort to abolish slavery. But for Black students calling for its removal, keeping the statue erases the president’s position against racial equality.
“He was very publicly anti-Black,” Nalah McWhorter, the president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, told Channel3000. “Just because he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean he was pro-Black.”
Lincoln fought to preserve the nation as southern states broke away to create their own country to maintain an economy built on free labor provided by Black slaves, and he signed legislation freeing the slaves after the Civil War was over.
But news reports published before the war during debates with Stephen Douglas quote Lincoln as also saying he was opposed to allowing Black residents to vote, be jurors, hold elected offices and marry white people.
Lincoln also is quoted in an 1858 Chicago Tribune article on the debates as saying “there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.”
He said, “Awhile they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
But he also was morally opposed to slavery. In a speech in 1854 in Peoria, Illinois, he said “my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal;’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”
UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank invited students to examine Lincoln’s “complex legacy, which may appear flawed after 150 years.”
“As the leader of UW-Madison, I believe that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy should not be erased but examined, that it should be both celebrated and critiqued,” Blank said in a statement issuing support for keeping the statue.
Republican Senator Duey Stroebel praised Blank’s decision
“One group’s objection should not constitute grounds to remove a statue (of) an American hero,” Stroebel said in a statement. “The taxpayers that support UW-Madison should be wary of any effort to minimize the importance of American heroes like Lincoln and Hans Christian Heg, whether those efforts come at the hands of a lawless mob or at the hands of a student group.”
Scrutiny of the monument comes days after protesters ripped down two iconic statues around the Wisconsin State Capitol just blocks away from where the Lincoln statue sits.
The university’s police department said they currently have a plan in place to protect the Lincoln statue but would not release details.
UWPD spokesman Marc Lovicott said they’ve been aware of the proposal for the past several weeks due to circulating social media posts.
“We’ve taken some action already,” Lovicott said. “We’ve been working on this for a while.”
McWhorter said keeping the statue shouldn’t be the university’s priority.
“For them to want to protect a breathless, lifeless statue more than they care about the experiences of their Black students that have been crying out for help for the past 50, 60 years, it’s just a horrible feeling as a student, as a Black and brown student on campus,” she said.
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