On Saturday, June 13, two groups gathered in Academic Plaza to express their opinions on the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross.
After the recent petitions for and against the removal of the statue on campus, the online debates about what should be done inspired a dual protest. A crowd of current and former students in favor of keeping the statue listened to a speech from Keith Hazelwood, Class of 1974, about Ross’ contributions to A&M and Texas. Before meeting the 'Save Sully' supporters, those in favor of removing the statue met in front of Cushing Library to share their opinions before marching to Academic Plaza.
Blinn biomedical engineering freshman Alaska Greene attended the protest and said the contributions Ross made to Texas A&M do not erase his wrongdoings.
“There are plenty of people who made contributions, but also did bad things, but we don’t have statues of them up,” Greene said. “It’s not right to honor someone who did the things he did, even if he made some kind of contribution.”
Hazelwood said people should start recognizing Ross for the good he did for the university and that he should be credited for its success, regardless of his ties to the Confederacy.
"When they say Lawrence Sullivan Ross is a traitor, it's like telling a Black man that his dad was a — you know what," Hazelwood said.
Before the anti-Sully protesters arrived and Hazelwood was still speaking, one individual passed by carrying a sign that read 'Sully was a white supremacist.' Hazelwood denounced the content of the sign.
"Now these dumb suckers over here are saying he was a racist because he didn't integrate everything in 1885," Hazelwood said. "I'm telling you now, I know this for a fact, because if he tried in 1885 he probably would have been killed."
Tammy Whisenant, Class of 2009, said she thinks the anti-Sully protesters don’t know enough about him, and that they should learn more before wanting to remove the statue.
“I understand the friction that it appears to cause for people who are not fully educated about what he really stood for,” Whisenont said. “I respect their opinions, but this is not that. They just need a little education so we can show them this man was actually pretty outstanding.”
Computer engineering sophomore Ian Beckett said he supports keeping the statue because he believes looking at a historical figure in today’s context is not realistic.
“I think we should respect those who have gone before us and established the institutions that we celebrate today,” Beckett said. “We shouldn’t judge people by the standards of today. Sully, I think, is a great man who did a lot for the university and the state of Texas.”
At the gathering in front of Cushing Library, A&M anthropology professor Filipe Castro said Ross may be an important figure in the history of Texas A&M, but he should not be glorified in the form of a statue.
“Why do we want to keep a statue that stands for racism and exclusion and hatred? Statues are just artifacts, they are not history,” Castro said. “History is in the library. If you really want to know the history of the Confederacy, go to the library. There is no censorship in the United States. All the opinions are going to be there, accessible to everybody.”
Junior Tiffany Morrow spoke to the anti-Sully protesters and said the presence of the Sully statue itself is wrong, because she feels it promotes oppression, and it idolizes him without giving his full backstory.
“We demonstrate a fundamental disrespect for our Black and Brown students while we encourage them to lay pennies at the feet of a man who would have been disgusted by the knowledge that they were permitted to enroll at this school,” Morrow said.
Morrow said students should not wait for others to act for our causes, but rather participate in uncomfortable conversations regarding racial injustice that are occurring in society today.
“I am deeply grateful for the contributions Sul Ross made to this university,” Morrow said. “I am glad that it generated some of the traditions that we love, and I am just as grateful, if not more so, for the people who have come behind him to ensure the university we know today is not the one he intended to leave us.”
Performance studies junior Joshua Carley said, given his position as the Gallery Director of the MSC Visual Arts Committee, he understands the importance of preserving history. However, he also said he thinks the statue should be relocated.
“It should be moved to Cushing Library as a way to showcase that the glorification of this man who makes a large demographic of students uncomfortable is not accepted, but should be remembered for who he was and his contributions to this university, positive and negative,” Carley said.
After the organizers spoke, the group marched to Academic Plaza where sections of the plaza were cordoned off with two yellow ropes, designating the center walkway as off-limits to both groups. However, not long after arriving, several anti-Sully protesters crossed one of the ropes and entered the center of the plaza. After this, a Sully supporter shouted 'Go home,' to which another protester replied 'We are home.'
Anthropology associate professor Michael Alvard was arrested by University Police for crossing the rope boundary and refusing to return the designated areas. Alvard was charged with criminal trespassing and given a $2,000 bond, according to the Brazos County Sheriff Office Jail. According to the Young Democratic Socialists of America at Texas A&M’s Facebook, donors amassed $3,000 to cover the bail costs for Alvard.
After his arrest, many more anti-Sully protesters crossed the rope and began to speak directly with their opposers. The groups quietly discussed their stances, but returned to chanting loudly shortly after.
Hugh Sterns, Class of 1982, said he has never approved of the statue, and was glad to see the group of anti-Sully protesters and the diversity among them.
“We see clearly, the wave of the future and the tendency of A&M to always try to hold on to the past,” Sterns said. “I’m not even opposed to holding onto certain elements of the past, but when a Black or Brown student walks across the A&M campus and sees this Confederate general that’s being venerated; it sends a message that’s just terrible. We’ve got a long, brutal history of racism in this country, and the way we overcome it is by taking down it’s legacy.”