Former students of the historically Black university launched an online petition drive Thursday that demands the university’s president, Dr. William R. Harvey, and board of trustees to take action immediately.
“It is a complete misalignment to celebrate him on our soil. We are doing ourselves a disservice as a school, and are failing to represent the interests of the larger black community,” the petition said. “The presence of this statue sends a message to the rest of the world that Hampton University, a historically black university, is willing to forget recent history, distance ourselves from the rest of black America, and ultimately compromise our morals.”
Hundreds gathered Jan. 27 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Hampton’s Founder’s Day to officially unveil a new campus landmark called Legacy Park that was commissioned by the university’s trustees, the university said in a press release.
The park features several sculptures, including well-known figures in Black history such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama. It also includes William Howard Taft, a former U.S. president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as one of the lesser-known figures. Harvey explained that Taft served as president of the Hampton University Board of Trustees.
But the inclusion of Bush sparked widespread disapproval. The petition said including Bush is like placing a statue of Vice President Mike Pence alongside a statue of Colin Kaepernick thee decades from now.
“Before becoming president himself, Bush Sr. served as vice president, under the Reagan administration. This political platform (occasionally referred to as “Reaganism”) was extremely hostile towards black Americans,” the petition stated. “Through the perpetuation of policies such as the War on Drugs (a continuation of Richard Nixon‘s platform), objection to civil rights, and otherwise capitalizing off of racial tensions at the expense of people of color, this platform compounded the 400 year old plight of black Americans.”
The alumni group is far from alone. Missouri’s Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay and his father, former congressman William Lacy Clay Sr., planned to ask the Congressional Black Caucus to formally oppose the sculpture of Bush on campus because of his legacy, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“It is a legacy that really damaged the African American community, and what I mean by that is his appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, to replace a giant like Thurgood Marshall,” the younger Clay said. “I think that was so insulting to the African American and to the country as a whole, because (Thomas) couldn’t hold a candle to Thurgood Marshall, as far as civil liberties, freedom, equal rights, equal justice. He’s contrary to all that.”