One of former president Bill Clinton’s late mentors is reigniting the debate over whether of not to tear down statues of American icons.
The University of Arkansas is debating the removal of a statue of late Sen. James William Fullbright, pointing to his opposition of certain civil rights legislation and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz advocated for the statue to be moved from the center of attention to a more remote location in in a letter to the university’s president.
“While Senator Fulbright fell short on integration and civil rights, scholars, biographers and former staffers have largely tied his shortcomings to the demands of political expediency of the times. For them, his votes did not reflect a hardened personal racism toward African Americans. Instead, they were more a reflection of his need to appease a voting constituency that was not ready for social change,” the letter reads.
“Nevertheless, the record exists and we cannot ignore the impact this had on the lives of people struggling for basic civil rights – nor ignore how demoralizing it must have been to see one of the Senate’s most progressive leaders yield to racist policies. I believe it is appropriate that we temper our praise while also remembering that hundreds of thousands of lives were impacted for the better through the Fulbright Program.” (Story continues below.)
Fullbright served as a mentor to former president Clinton.
“We come to celebrate and give thanks for the remarkable life of J. William Fulbright, a life that changed our country and our world forever and for the better,” Clinton said when he gave Fulbright’s eulogy. “In the work he did, the words he spoke, and the life he lived, Bill Fulbright stood against the 20th century’s most destructive forces and fought to advance its brightest hopes.”
What the university will do remains to be seen.
Steinmetz did not entirely disown Fullbright, though.
“On the other hand, we must also weigh his contributions as a president of the University and as a U.S. senator, including opposition to the Vietnam war and perhaps his greatest legacy, the Fulbright International Exchange Program, likely the most prestigious, far-reaching and important exchange program in the world,” Steinmetz said.