Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman sent the following message to faculty, staff, and students on Friday, August 25 regarding the removal of the College’s statue of George Morgan Jones.
Dear Randolph Faculty, Staff, and Students,
Earlier this week, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees made the decision to remove the statue of George Morgan Jones from its current location near Moore Hall. Workers took the statue down this morning (Friday, August 25).
There are two parallel arguments for removing the statue, which looked out over the eastern end of the front lawn toward Presser Hall.
The first argument comes from within the community as evidenced by alumnae, alumni, staff, and faculty who have asked me recently how we can justify having a statue of a Confederate soldier on our campus. They point out that the Confederacy was created to fight to protect the right to own slaves, and they find this abhorrent. They also point out that the statue was erected at a time (1912) when there was a rise of white supremacist sentiment in the nation, and that the flood of Confederate statues that were created at that time were part and parcel of the same political movement that put in place the Jim Crow laws. They argue that the statue has no place on a diverse campus that welcomes people of all races and that explicitly embraces equality for all.
This argument for taking down the statue is reinforced by the fact that the College was not founded until 25 years after the Confederacy was defeated by the Union forces. The College has no connection to the Confederacy and, thus, the presence of a statue glorifying a Confederate soldier has no obvious place on our campus. On a separate note, the statue is not an accurate portrayal of Jones, as he was never a general or officer. He served the Confederate Army as a cook and only reached the rank of buck private.
Like all arguments, this one has at least two sides. It is certainly true that there are two reasons to honor George Morgan Jones:
1) He was the first person to suggest to our founder, William Waugh Smith, that the Woman’s College be located in Lynchburg, and
2) He was a very generous donor to the College.
Of course, honoring Jones does not obligate us to celebrate his participation in the Confederacy. The faculty has debated the removal of the statue in the past, but we are no longer in a position to debate the issue.
Which brings us to the second reason for removal. In the current national environment, a public dispute about the removal of the statue would have posed a very real risk to the physical safety of our campus community. If we were to have gained attention for debating the presence of a statue of a Confederate soldier on our campus, it is quite possible that armed white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, and neo-Nazis would have descended on our campus to “protect” the statue or simply to express their support for keeping it where it is. Their purposes, of course, would only be nominally connected to the debate about the statue. Their intent, as we saw in Charlottesville recently, is violent, threatening, and publicity seeking. Thus, prudent behavior required removing the statue now before it could become an issue.
My suggestion to the Executive Committee of the Board was to remove the statue, not its base. This is because the base is itself an elegant plinth that honors Jones’ role in first suggesting that the College be located in Lynchburg. In his correspondence with Jones’ widow, President Smith accepted the wording for the public plaque commemorating Jones role in the history of the College. And while there is no deed-of-gift limiting our placement or display of the statue, I feel that we should honor President Smith’s intention by displaying the plinth that bears the agreed inscription.
I argue that we should not try to hide or erase the role of any founder or benefactor of the College in the Confederacy. I would argue that unless we are honest about our history, we cannot appreciate our accomplishments in their true context. President Quillian’s great successes in integrating our student body, for instance, are only understood fully if we understand how and why the College was, at one time, an institution only for white women. I also proposed to the Executive Committee that we take the time to find an alternative location for the statue where we can place new interpretative plaques explaining the full story of how the College came to have a statue of a Confederate soldier. While we have no interest in celebrating anyone’s participation in the Confederacy, properly contextualized, the statue provides us the opportunity to more fully curate our history for future generations.
As we begin the new academic year, I hope you join with the College in its dedication to providing an inclusive, safe, and welcoming community.
Bradley W. Bateman
25 August 2017