A statue of Thomas Jefferson on the campus of the University of Missouri (MU) has become the latest target of student activists, who find the monument’s connection to the nation’s slave-owning past bothersome.
The statue in question is located in one of MU’s botanic gardens known as “Jefferson Garden,” alongside the original tombstone that once marked Thomas Jefferson’s grave in his Virginia hometown. During the May 31 protest over George Floyd’s death, protesting students covered the head of the bronze statue with a plastic bag.
“Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, owned more than 600 African-American slaves throughout his adult life,” reads an online petition calling for the removal of the statue from the MU campus, which has gained nearly 3,000 supporting signatures. “Mizzou has no room for a racist slave owner on our campus where thousands of black students pass by everyday.”
The MU sophomore student who launched the petition told local NBC affiliate KOMU that the statue “bothered him” because Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owner.
“We’re not enslaved anymore, but then you have to see someone who enslaved your ancestors, and it’s kind of like you’re kicking a horse when it’s down,” he said.
The attempt to remove the Founding Father’s statue is not new to the MU.
In 2015, an online petition was started by a then-graduate student, who told local newspaper Columbia Missourian that the success of the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue from the University of Texas had motivated him to do so for Thomas Jefferson on his campus. The petition failed to reach its initial goal of 1,300 signatures.
Amid the ongoing upheaval, some protesters in colleges and universities have now set their eyes on historical monuments that have ties to racial injustice. On June 6, protesters vandalized the statue of Confederate commander Williams Carter Wickham on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in Richmond, before pulling it down with ropes and urinated on it, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The statue had stood in place since 1891.
Earlier this month, a junior high school teacher was arrested after he allegedly vandalized a 1906 Confederate statue at the University of Mississippi (UM) campus. The words “spiritual genocide” in black spray paint, along with red handprints, were found on every side of monument, which commemorates soldiers who fought for the Southern cause during the Civil War.
UM administrators have recommended moving the statue to a Civil War cemetery, which is less frequently visited, but the state College Board postponed the vote on the proposal.