Florida State University will relocate a campus statue of a former slaveholder and will seek approval to remove the name of a pro-segregation Supreme Court justice from a law-school building, university president John Thrasher announced Tuesday.
“The great value of history is understanding and learning from it so we can move forward,” Thrasher said in a letter to the FSU community, after reviewing recommendations made by a panel of students, faculty and others who reviewed controversial building names and memorials at the school.
“As we look around our beautiful campus, there is evidence of our rich heritage all around us. We can see it in the names of our buildings and the statues of our forebears,” Thrasher wrote.
“But our history is not without its flaws, nor were some of the people who contributed to the growth of this pre-eminent institution,” he added. “How we choose to acknowledge that truth is important.”
Thrasher appointed a 15-member committee last fall to review campus building names, statues and other memorials and to review the process of naming future buildings.
In May, the panel recommended that the statue of Francis Eppes, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson and a former mayor of Tallahassee, be removed from its prominent position near the eastern entrance to the campus next to the main administration building.
Thrasher said he agreed with the committee’s recommendation to relocate the Eppes statue, which has only been in place since 2002, to another spot on the campus and to provide more context about Eppes’ past.
He said his decision was based on the committee’s findings about Eppes’ role as a former slave owner and a justice of the peace who helped capture escaped slaves. Thrasher also agreed with the committee’s conclusion that while Eppes played an important role in developing the institution that later became FSU, describing him as the school’s “founder” was overstated.
Thrasher decided to keep Eppes’ name on a building that houses the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, while adding a marker to more fully explain Eppes’ biography. The committee had recommended renaming the building.
Thrasher agreed with the committee’s recommendation to remove the name of B.K. Roberts from a law-school building, a change that would require approval from the state Legislature.
Thrasher, a former House speaker and lawyer, cited Roberts’ role as a member of the Florida Supreme Court in backing pro-segregation opinions in the 1950s, including a decision defying a U.S. Supreme Court order to admit a black student to the University of Florida law school.
“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions do not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” Thrasher wrote.
“This honor is a painful reminder of this state’s segregationist history, and it is highly offensive to many in our community, including many current FSU students who attended a forum to formally express their objections,” he added.
Thrasher said Roberts’ role in helping establish FSU’s law school and efforts to improve Florida’s judicial system will be recognized somewhere in the law school in an “appropriate space and manner.”
Thrasher also said a set of principles recommended by the committee will be incorporated into the university’s procedure for naming buildings, erecting statues or otherwise honoring the school’s supporters and prominent alumni.