“The university continues to support the Abraham Lincoln statue on our campus,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement obtained by WISCTV News 3, adding that the 16th president’s legacy is not free from critique, but surely worth celebrating.
“Like those of all presidents, Lincoln’s legacy is complex and contains actions which, 150 years later, appear flawed,” said Blank. “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.”
To further illustrate the complexity, Blank noted that many public universities, including the UW-Madison, were established due to a Lincoln-era policy to allocate federal lands to support college education. But those lands were “expropriated” from Native Americans.
“Without Lincoln, public land-grant universities like ours might not exist,” she said. “These universities have been engines of social mobility and economic growth for citizens who would never otherwise have had access to higher education.”
A group of students recently petitioned to remove the Lincoln statue, primarily because, they argue, the two 18th century alumni who purchased and donated the statue to the university were racists. In addition, members of the black student union say that the statue is a reminder of racial inequality.
“He was also very publicly anti-Black,” Nalah McWhorter, president of UW-Madison’s black student union, told WISCTV. “Just because he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean he was pro-black.”
The petition comes as activists in Wisconsin started eyeing not only monuments of the Confederacy, but also statues commemorating the historical movement to end slavery. According to the Madison Police Department, protesters removed the Hans Christian Heg statue from Capitol grounds during a night of protests on June 23.
Heg was a Norwegian immigrant and abolitionist. During the Civil War, Heg formed and led the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment, a unit mainly consisting of Scandinavian immigrants, and died in a battle. Protesters torn down the Heg statue—which had stood in front of the Capitol since 1925—removed its head, and dragged it into Madison’s Lake Monona.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a Wednesday press release that the Heg statue has since been recovered.
A protester told the Wisconsin State Journal that the Heg statue was removed because it created a “false representation of what this city is” and the state government wasn’t “taking that same stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.”