This university is removing a statue of its slave-owning founder

B.K. Roberts Hall at FSU's College of Law.

Florida State University students will soon say goodbye to a familiar face.

A prominent statue of one of the school’s slave-owning founders will be relocated from the school’s front gates, FSU President John Thrasher announced Tuesday.

In addition to the statue’s relocation, Thrasher approved seeking the removal of a pro-segregation Florida Supreme Court justice’s name from the campus’ law school building. However, Thrasher did not accept a third recommendation to change the name of a different campus building that bears the same name as the statue.

“The great value of history is learning from it so we can move forward,” Thrasher wrote in a statement. “Examining the names of these two campus buildings and the placement of this statue has afforded Florida State University that opportunity.”

Relocating the statue

Thrasher’s decisions were informed by recommendations from an advisory panel of students, faculty and others that he convened to review campus building names as well as other memorials.

Following years of protests by students, the panel recommended that the statue of Francis Eppes VII, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, founder of FSU and former mayor of Tallahassee, be removed from its location at the school’s entrance.

Due to his slave-holding past and his previously overstated role in founding FSU, Thrasher decided to accept the panel’s recommendation to relocate the statue, commissioned in 2002.

“To keep the statue located at the front gates of campus is to give Eppes a level of prominence that is simply not appropriate,” Thrasher wrote.

Thrasher said that wherever it is moved, the statue will be accompanied by a plaque that will mention Eppes’ history of slave ownership as well as celebrate his contributions to FSU.

Although Eppes’ statue will be moved, Thrasher did not accept the panel’s recommendation to remove his name from the school’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice building. Thrasher said his decision was based on Eppes’ “significant contributions” to FSU, and wrote that Eppes Hall will soon include a marker with biographical information about Eppes that includes his slave ownership.

Renaming the College of Law

Thrasher also agreed to accept the panel’s recommendation to seek legislative action to legally remove the name of B.K. Roberts, a founder of the university’s law school and former Florida Supreme Court justice, from the FSU College of Law Building

While a member of the Florida Supreme Court in the 1950s, Roberts wrote pro-segregation opinions, including a decision that refused to obey a US Supreme Court ruling and denied a black man enrollment in the University of Florida’s College of Law. Thrasher said that rather than moving the state forward, Roberts came down “on the wrong side of history and justice.”

“To keep the name of B.K. Roberts on the law school building would continue to honor someone whose decisions and actions to not reflect Florida State University’s values or the rule of law,” Thrasher wrote.

Roberts should be celebrated in an “appropriate space and manner” elsewhere within the law school, Thrasher added.

The campus community speaks out

FSU students have been fighting to rename campus buildings and remove Eppes’ statue since 2016, according to Thrasher’s statement. And while some students commend Thrasher’s decision, others disagree.

The College Republicans of FSU issued a statement that said by choosing to remove Eppes’ statue, Thrasher is deciding to “cave to the whims of the loud minority.”

“Removing his statue does not erase his shortcomings,” the statement said. “Rather, it simply ignores his generosity to our University and to our state.”

Other student groups believe Thrasher didn’t go far enough. In a tweet, members of Students for a Democratic Society in Tallahassee expressed disappointment in Thrasher for rejecting the recommendation to rename Eppes Hall.

“While we applaud the decision by President Thrasher to accept two of the panel’s three recommendations, retaining the name of a Confederate who started slave-catching militias on the criminology building is, at best, deeply irresponsible and tone-deaf,” the group wrote.

Part of a larger movement

The recent decisions at FSU are only the latest in a nationwide movement to remove Confederate monuments and rename buildings that bore the names of former slaveholders.

Cities like New Orleans, Memphis and Baltimore have been purging their cities of Confederate statues for several years. And lately, Texas has been leading the charge in removing Confederate monuments.

In the past three years, more than 100 monuments and symbols have been removed from 22 states and the District of Colombia, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.