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FSU SDS wins victory. Panel votes to remove racist Eppes statue, building names from campus

By Maddie Hendrick |
May 5, 2018
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SDS wins removal of statue honoring slaveholder.
SDS wins removal of statue honoring slaveholder. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Tallahassee, FL - Florida State University (FSU) Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) launched a campaign in 2016 to remove a racist statue and rename two buildings on FSU’s campus. On May 4, SDS’s demands were met when an advisory panel voted to recommend that the university remove the Francis Eppes statue, and rename both Eppes Hall and BK Roberts Hall.

Francis Eppes was a slaveholder and grandson of Thomas Jefferson who served as Mayor of Tallahassee for several terms in the 1840s, ‘50s and ‘60s. He is currently honored as the founder of FSU, and a statue was commissioned in his honor in 1999. That statue was unveiled to the public in 2002 and currently sits on a bench in front of Westcott Hall. Behind the statue stands Eppes Hall, which was named in Eppes’ honor in 1997 and currently houses the criminology department.

SDS has emphasized Eppes’ role in the creation of the Tallahassee police department and in censoring abolitionist literature as mayor. They have also called into question the notion that Eppes had a significant role in founding the University.

BK Roberts was a justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 1949 to 1976 who was instrumental in founding the FSU law school in 1965. The main building at the law school was named BK Roberts Hall by the Florida legislature in 1973. Critics of the name have pointed out Roberts’ role in preventing Virgil Hawkins, a Black man, from enrolling at UF Law School, even after he was instructed to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In September 2017, FSU President John Thrasher announced the creation of a 15-member “Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions,” after the acts of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of that year. The panel is composed of FSU administrators, faculty, student leaders and alumni, and has held several meetings since October 2017. At a meeting in February, Thrasher asked the panel to focus specifically on the Francis Eppes statue, Eppes Hall, and BK Roberts Hall. The panel also held five town hall meetings for public comment during the month of March.

The May 4 meeting began with public comments from three SDS members. The panel was then asked to provide specific recommendations on each of the recognitions separately. A motion to remove Roberts’ name from the law school building passed unanimously. A motion to remove Eppes’ name from the criminology building passed a voice vote with two panel members dissenting. A motion to maintain the Eppes statue in its current location with some alteration failed by a roll call vote 3-9. A second motion to move the statue and replace it with another monument that more accurately reflects the early history of the university passed unanimously, to the applause of SDS members.

SDS Vice President Katherine Draken, who has been involved in the campaign since the beginning, said, “I am incredibly happy that we managed to succeed after years of hard work raising awareness.” She added, “we will continue our work in fighting against racism at FSU and educating the student body about FSU’s history.”

The panel’s recommendations are not final decisions: the final decision on the Eppes statue and building will be made by President Thrasher, and the recommendation on the renaming of BK Roberts Hall will be made to the Florida Legislature.

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