Missouri curators reject interpretive Thomas Jefferson sign
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri Board of Curators has rejected a proposal to add information about Thomas Jefferson’s history as a slaveowner near a statue of the 3rd U.S. president on the Columbia campus, which has been roiled by racial tension for years.
The board voted 7-1 Thursday to disregard a task force recommendation to add the information about Jefferson, in response to a push last year by Black students and organizations who wanted the statue removed.
The board also rejected a proposal to add a Legacy Walk on campus to acknowledge the role Black people played in building the university, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
The school drew national attention in 2015, after months of protests over reports of racist incidents and a perceived lack of response from administrators. A graduate student held a hunger strike and the football team threatened to refuse to play. Students camped in tents and held daily rallies calling for System President Tim Wolfe to step down or be fired.
Wolfe and Columbia campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned in November 2015.
Last year, as protests against racial injustice spread across the country, demonstrators vandalized Jefferson’s original tombstone on campus, prompting the university to protect it with an acrylic cover.
In September 2020, hundreds of people joined a march and rally organized by Missouri athletes and social justice groups calling for an end to racial disparities. Some Missouri football players organized a similar rally in June 2020.
University of Missouri System President and Missouri Chancellor Mun Choi created the task force as a comprise after a student-led effort gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to have the statue removed.
That task force recommended a sign that would detail Jefferson’s accomplishments but also note that he owned slaves and fathered children with at least one of them. A resolution to add a QR — or quick response — code near the statue that would have linked cellphone users to other resources also was rejected.
Curators said a brief sign would not provide adequate context for Jefferson’s life.
“It’s problematic to fit Thomas Jefferson onto a 300-word wayside sign,” Curator Jeff Layman said.
Curator Darryl Chatman, who is Black, acknowledged the statue might continue to trouble Black students and he encouraged them to take advantage of counseling services.
The proposed MU Legacy Walk would have been a physical walk combined with a digital app to discuss many Black people important to the university’s history, such as Lloyd Gaines, who sued to be admitted to the law school.
There was little discussion about the Legacy Walk but Chatman said the board felt the proposal exceeded the task force’s mandate. The board did approve adding a fountain as a place of reflection.