The Texas A&M campus just gained a new statue.
On Friday, Nov. 19, hundreds of Aggies and special guests including descendants from the Gaines family gathered to celebrate the unveiling and dedication of the new Matthew Gaines statue led by interim Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs Brig. Gen. Joe E. Ramirez Jr. on Yolanda and Jimmy ‘65 Janacek Plaza near the Memorial Student Center.
Board of Regents Vice Chairman William “Bill” Mahomes expressed his gratitude to the donors for making the construction of the statue possible.
“On behalf of the Board of Regents, I also want to thank all of you who made this possible — students, former students, faculty, staff and several others, many of whom have committed time and financial resources to this effort,” Mahomes said. “[The Gaines statue] has been generations in the making and an occasion that is destined to strengthen Texas A&M University.”
Mahomes also recognized Gaines’ time spent as a slave during the first 25 years of his life.
“Twenty-five years, that's longer than most of our graduates have even lived,” Mahomes said. “Mr. Gaines devoted much of his life to serving others. He knew that education was foundational in the treatment of true freedom of opportunity for everyone. Mr. Gaines planted seeds and wanted them as best he could and the heart of 19th Century central Texas and the freedom of opportunity for every student, that rose that grew from those seeds is something that we can all celebrate.”
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Timothy P. Scott represented A&M President M. Katherine Banks, who is still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 12.
“The president sends her regrets that she cannot be here just as we send our prayers for a speedy recovery to her,” Scott said. “I will tell you that she is overjoyed to see the vision of this statute come to fruition.”
Scott said the statue not only celebrates the university’s history, but how the Black community has influenced A&M.
“Today, we take a giant step forward to forever memorialize Matthew Gaines and recognize the many Black women and men who have contributed to establish A&M as one of the nation's premier universities,” Scott said. “Without Matthew Gaines, it's quite possible there would be no A&M.”
Though A&M has grown beyond its agricultural and military roots, Scott said the university has not forgotten the mission to provide the highest quality of education.
“With this statute, we are reminded of the visionary leadership of Matthew Gaines; we are reminded of the importance of education to our society. We are mindful that the Aggie family is rich and diverse,” Scott said. “We are reminded that our land grant mission calls us to serve all the citizens of this great state, and it reminds us that this love of place, and the critical role of education, unites us together regardless of our differences. Today, 121 years after his death, we give thanks for the life of Matthew Gaines and erect this memorial to honor his leadership and his vision.”
Student Body President Natalie Parks said she was honored to be able to witness such a monumental time in the university’s history.
“I am incredibly honored to be able to witness this absolutely groundbreaking moment in Texas A&M history,” Parks said. “I'm also very excited because I really do believe that this statue unveiling is comparable to us unveiling a new era, a positive era here in Aggieland.”
Now unveiled, Parks said the statute should serve as a reminder of the potential of all Aggies.
“The fact that this landmark is finally up on our campus really does fill me with hope because it is and will forever be an intangible and ever present reminder that all ideas, regardless of our background, can leave a positive and lasting impact on this university, on this state and on the society,” Parks said.
Parks said the statue truly represents the Matthew Gaines Society’s catchphrase — "Everybody Gaines."
“Everybody gains from this historic moment because the erection of the statue is symbolic of what can be achieved when Aggies help Aggies and unite under a common goal,” Parks said. “Everybody gains because we are reminded of the importance of representation on our campus within our community and throughout our world.”
Matthew Gaines Society Vice President Mason Alexander Hawk, a descendent of Gaines, said after the civil unrest regarding controversial confederacy statues this summer brought the issue to the forefront of the public’s eye, their donation efforts increased significantly.
“For decades, their tireless efforts failed. It was not until the pivotal summer of 2020, where civil unrest had broken out across the country, and we as a nation were forced to address issues of systemic racism, did we begin to see a shift in momentum,” Hawk said. “Within a matter of months, we received donations that doubled our goal to build the statue.”
Legacy is the best word Hawk said she could use to describe what the Gaines statue means to herself, her family and to A&M.
“Legacy is when you are genuinely convicted in offering yourself to serve a cause greater than your own in order to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to humanity,” Hawk said. “Legacy is generational, where your impact on people and places far exceeds your life. Legacy is the mark you leave on the world. Senator Matthew Gaines’ legacy is undeniable.”
Hawk said Gaines helped A&M to overcome many obstacles, while ensuring he was making a positive impact on those around him.
“Not only was Matthew Gaines a figure of perseverance and resilience, he is also a true representation of the Aggie Core Values — Loyalty, Integrity, Excellence, Leadership, Respect and Selfless Service,” Hawk said. “He was a champion of African American rights, including advocating for prison reform, education and voting rights. His fight for increased access to education and the betterment of all people helped make it possible for us to attend this institution — an institution that he himself, nor his grandkids, nor his kids, nor his great grandkids would have been able to attend because of the color of their skin.”
Matthew Gaines Society President Aketch Osamba began her speech recalling times in college where she has called her mother to celebrate, mentioning her acceptance into the Matthew Gaines Society as a monumental moment in her A&M experience.
“At the time, I did not realize that that phone call marked the beginning of yet another student's efforts to tirelessly advocate for the commemoration of Senator Matthew Gaines’ legacy on Texas A&M,” Osamba said. “For over 20 years, countless students have rallied together to recognize Sen. Gaines’ leadership as he and the 12th Texas Legislator utilized the enactment of the Land Grant College Act to establish Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M University.”
Osamba said she applauds generations of students who have faced setbacks all leading up to the moment the statue was revealed on campus.
“We're faced with the reality that we are here today because of the resilience of everyday students on campus. The Matthew Gaines Society serves as a reminder of why traditions and the Aggie Spirit hold such a strong presence on campus,” Osamba said. “I hope that today with the contribution of the continued support of the Matthew Gaines Society, we're able to spark perseverance in the upcoming generations of Aggies as they navigate their place in Texas A&M.”
Hawk said the statue represents more than just art on campus; it represents the beginning of change.
“This statue is symbolic. This statue is representation,” Hawk said. “This statue is history.”