On June 30, 2020, The Arkansas Traveler published my column addressing the University’s need to remove the late Senator James William Fulbright’s name and image from campus. Although Sen. Fulbright championed student exchange programs, he was an avid segregationist — a visionary for segregated classrooms, dormitories and dining halls.
This summer, many Black UA students called for the removal of Fulbright’s statue from Old Main and his name from the College of Arts and Sciences. In July, the UA administration organized a committee of students and faculty to recommend whether the university should retain or remove the Fulbright name and statue.
According to policy, the UA Board of Trustees holds the ultimate vote on public arts and naming's for the campus. However, Todd Shields, dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and Chancellor Joseph Steinmitz could still issue their own declarations supporting removal.
Instead, the UA students have received answers in the form of campus administration dodging the issue or publishing broad messages promoting diversity. I could not say whether the Chancellor or Todd Shields supports, discourages, or is indifferent to removing Fulbright’s statue and name from campus, despite my first column being published over nine months ago.
In Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court ruled public discrimination unconstitutional, yet Senator Fulbright and 94 other members of Congress subsequently issued the Southern Manifesto on Integration. They regarded the Brown decision as eroding the “amicable relations between the white and Negro races,” and instead, seeding “hatred and suspicion where there ha(d) been...friendship and understanding”
In 1954, Black Americans had no right to vote, eat in public establishments with white people, or attend a white school, so I question the existence of the “friendship and understanding” Fulbright described.
Fulbright commended the states who actively pledged to resist the “forced integration” of their public schools. In other words, the Fulbright college is a monument to a man who encouraged states and schools to oppose integration of minorities— the antithesis of the University’s proclaimed mission today.
Ten years after signing the Southern Manifesto, Fulbright made a speech in 1964 during a debate over the Civil Right Act of 1964 in which he said “We (Southern states) believe the proposed legislation is not in the best interests of the country and we hope that we will be given an adequate opportunity to make our case.”
The late Senator’s record on civil rights extends beyond declarations. According to a New York Times’ piece by Daniel Yergen in 1974, he even “lined up with his angry white constituents” during the Little Rock Nine crisis.
Unless the Fulbright College makes a change, my diploma will have the name of a man who stood among white people that harassed and threatened to kill Black children for attending their once all-white school.
Since my original column on Fulbright, over nine months ago, the University modified his biography to denounce his racism, yet their renouncement ever-increases the inexplicability of the situation.
If someone denounces the Ku Klux Klan because of their racism but has a Klansman statue in the front yard, there’s an inconsistency.
On January 19 Anthony DiNicola, Inclusion Liaison for the Office of the Chancellor, interviewed Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, in which the Chancellor stated, “If (there's) anything the pandemic has told us about this institution it's that we can be more flexible than we think we can be.”
The Chancellor also released a proclamation that the University “promote(s) the healing of the wounds created by racial...bias,” yet here the University has the opportunity to heal wounds by removing the Fulbright statue and renaming the Fulbright department, but their fervent attitude flickers out like a light bulb.
The Fulbright College of Arts and Science’s mission statement, influenced by Fulbright’s “conflicting and complex legacy” is to “promot(e) discovery, diversity, and inclusion.” I note the irony of the “Fulbright” Department promoting “diversity;” it’s equivalent to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) sponsoring Budweiser.
After initially condemning Fulbright’s advocacy of segregationist principles, the UofA praises him for his commitment to establishing a student exchange program and advocacy for international diplomacy.
However, the UofA recognizes there is no inconsistency with advocacy for universal education and segregation. Racial segregation stands for organizing people based on race, yet anyone may support providing the opportunity for all to be educated. In theory anyone may support universal education and segregation.
The attempt to toe the line between condemning racism and applauding devotion to universal education is unsuccessful. Of course it is consistent for a segregationist to support universal education, but the issue is and always was: the UofA reveres and honors a segregationist.
The University has assembled a committee to feign expediency in addressing a simple issue. Although it’s ultimately the Board of Trustees’ jurisdiction, we deserve support from campus leadership, especially the Chancellor, encouraging the Board to support removal.
Instead, we get emails about learning to become anti-racist and promoting inclusivity. Might I suggest an important step to becoming anti-raicst and advancing inclusivity is to remove racists.
To some, “cancel culture” is rampant and dangerous because it fosters an environment that only tolerates perfection. But in this context, I argue for the extrapolation of segregationists, not conservative or liberal advocates.
Removing statues doesn't alter or remove history because textbooks and teachers — not statues — teach history. Moreover, I never argued that no one should teach about Fulbright; instead, his public presence in the form of departmental honors and statutory representations should be removed.
Finally, an appropriate resolution should be relocating his statue and historical remembrance to a museum, so any may learn about Sen. Fulbright while the UofA maintains its purported interests in fostering an inclusive and diverse environment.