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A student group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is calling for the school to remove its popular Abraham Lincoln statue, saying the president who is known as the “Great Emancipator” is a symbol of racism.
The statue has sat atop the university’s Bascom Hill for more than a century and is a popular backdrop for graduate photos, according to WISC-TV. But students in the university’s black student union say that its continued presence on campus ignores the 16th president’s stated opinions against racial equality.
“He was also very publicly anti-Black,” Nalah McWhorter, the president of UW-Madison’s black student union, said. “Just because he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean he was pro-black.”
“He said a lot in his presidential campaigns. His fourth presidential campaign speech, he said that he believes there should be an inferior and superior, and he believes white people should be the superior race,” she added.
It should be noted that Lincoln did in fact express those sentiments in a presidential campaign speech on Sept. 18, 1858, though that was nearly five years before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Like those of all presidents, Lincoln’s legacy is complex and contains actions which, 150 years later, appear flawed,” Chancellor Becky Blank said in response to the calls for the statue’s removal.
“However, when the totality of his tenure is considered, Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of our greatest presidents, having issued the Emancipation Proclamation, persuaded Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment ending slavery and preserved the Union during the Civil War,” she added.
Blank acknowledged that while the school has a lot of work to do “to address systemic racism and oppression,” she doesn’t support removing the statue. She argued that Lincoln’s legacy should be both celebrated and critiqued.
.@UWMadison Chancellor @beckyblank's statement on call to remove Pres. Lincoln statue on campus. She says the university believes "deeply in justice and equity for all people" & says they are in talks for Ho-Chunk land acknowledgement, but they think the statue should stay. pic.twitter.com/8vwXZTDSCX
— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) June 25, 2020
That response didn’t sit well with McWhorter, who argued that the school is siding with a “breathless, lifeless statue” over their black students.
“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.
The call for the statue’s removal follows the toppling of two statues in downtown Madison last week — one of which was the statue of an abolitionist.
But McWhorter said her organization is not interested in forcibly removing the Lincoln statue. Rather she would like the university to remove the statue by choice.