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Tallahassee: Slave-owner statue officially removed. Victory for 5-year SDS campaign

By staff |
February 1, 2021
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Protest against confederate statues at FSU.
Protest against confederate statues at FSU. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Tallahassee, FL – Florida State University’s (FSU) Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion recently released their recommendation to permanently remove the Eppes statue and change the names of Eppes Hall and B. K. Roberts Hall. On January 27, FSU President John Thrasher approved the task force recommendation. This decision comes after years of campaigning and struggle from FSU’s campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

FSU SDS had been organizing around this issue for about five years, and the campaign has seen many victories and losses. In 2016, SDS sponsored a non-binding referendum within Student Government Association to remove the Eppes statue, which failed to a 71% majority of students who voted to keep the statue at Wescott Fountain. When working through Student Government Association failed, Students for a Democratic Society realized that more ground work would be necessary to not only educate the campus community on Francis Eppes’ legacy as a slave owner who helped fund the Confederacy, but also to struggle with the racist culture of FSU and point out the contradictions in the university’s calls for such values as “diversity and inclusion.”

Students for a Democratic Society continued to organize at Market Wednesdays, tabling and passing out flyers and information about the history and legacy of figures like Francis Eppes, B. K. Roberts and Doak Campbell.

B. K. Roberts was a Florida Supreme Court judge whose career includes managing a gubernatorial campaign of then-Ku Klux Klan member Fuller Warren and denying Black student Virgil Hawkins the right to attend law school. The university credits Roberts with the founding of the FSU College of Law.

Doak Campbell was president during the transformation from the Florida State College for Women to Florida State University. He is remembered for his anti-integration views after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, suppressing calls for campus integration, suppressing coverage of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott in the campus newspaper Florida Flambeau and expelling a graduate student who voiced support for a Black city commission candidate.

SDS held rallies and marches on and off campus to speak out against the racism occurring on campus, including things like the decreasing rate of Black enrollment and harassment from the FSU police department and other staff. SDS was constructing a movement, and while the goal was to have the statue removed immediately, members understood that this would be a long-term struggle.

2018 saw a crucial victory for the campaign. After speaking at the President’s Task Force on Names and Recognitions over the course of the 2017-18 fall and spring semesters, the task force recommended to President Thrasher to remove the statue. However, the statue was replaced several yards away from its original spot near Wescott fountain, closer to Eppes Hall, about ten months later. The statue returned along with a new plaque which, according to Thrasher, was meant to “contextualize” Eppes’ role in the founding of FSU.

This trick was not enough to dissuade SDS from picking up the campaign once again, which included a rally on July 4th, 2020 and a successful call-in day. That very day, it was announced that the statue was removed a second time.

Jonce Palmer, SDS member, said “This has been a campaign we’ve worked towards ever since I joined SDS, and I’m not surprised the FSU administration took this long to act. It was our efforts and the uprising of people across the country and in Tallahassee this summer that sent a clear message: white supremacy is not welcome in our communities and in our campuses, and that includes keeping slave owners in a place of honor.”

After the July call-in day, the second, current Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion began holding hearings during this past fall semester. SDS took this as another opportunity to mobilize, and members spoke out at several meetings along with campus community members regarding the statue and names along with racist interactions had with staff, professors, other students, and FSUPD.

After weeks of coming to these task force meetings again and again, they got the message. The campus community will not tolerate these symbols of white supremacy. Now that this demand has finally been met, FSU Students for a Democratic Society is focusing on community control of the police at FSU, terminating the student dining deal with prison labor-using company Aramark, and working against political repression in Tallahassee, including the HB1 Anti-Protest bill, and dropping the charges for the #Tally19.