Opinion: Remove the Statue of Confederate General and Texas Ranger Lawrence Sullivan Ross at Texas A&M
What happens when institutional traditions symbolize white supremacy?
This Op-Ed piece appeared originally in the Houston Chronicle on 15 June 2020.
By Sonia Hernández, Nancy Plankey-Videla, Sarah McNamara, Michael Collins and Felipe Hinojosa
Tradition defines Texas A&M University. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this principle. But what happens when institutional traditions symbolize white supremacy?
We, faculty of Latinx and Mexican American studies, Africana studies and Multicultural Education, join our students and colleagues in their call to remove the statue of Texas Ranger and Confederate Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross at Texas A&M University, College Station. The statue of Ross commemorates a man whose life, beliefs, actions and principles stand in stark contrast to the institution that Texas A&M University strives to be.
When Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, the state’s Declaration of Causes stated that the preservation of slavery, the subjugation of African Americans and the supremacy of white Texans motivated this call to arms. Ross saw these principles as upstanding and led Texas and the Confederacy in its fight to uphold “equal civil rights for all white men” and maintain “the servitude of the African race.”
Ross served in the Texas Rangers as a captain. The relatively unregulated purview of the Rangers led to anti-black, anti-Mexican and anti-native violence throughout the state. Archival research from scholars such as Monica Muñoz Martínez and William Carrigan illustrates that the Rangers did more than instill order; they instilled terror.
The Texas Rangers claimed land for white Texans at the cost of human lives they believed mattered less than their own. Ross, who was known as an “Indian fighter,” ordered the murder of native peoples who sought to escape Ranger raids on their sovereign lands. And, in 1901, the San Antonio Daily Express reported that Ranger presence in the city made “Mexicans live in terror and fear,” as Rangers harassed, abused and lynched Tejanos who lived in the region for generations. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, the Rangers did not need hoods because the violence they committed was done with the endorsement and protection of the state. Between 1910 and 1920, the Rangers followed direct orders from the governor and killed several hundred Mexican-origin Texans. Scholars, across the state and nation, have gone to great lengths to document this history through the Refusing to Forget project.
In 1919, at the height of Ranger-led violence, Texas A&M University erected a statue to Ross. Our call to remove the statue is not an effort to remake history in exchange for politically correct fiction, but a call to recognize what the statue intended to represent in its historical moment. Jim Grossman, former president of the American Historical Association, reminds us monuments and statues do not explain history; the act of creating a statue carries a political purpose and agenda. When that statue represents a hateful past, it falls upon the university community to correct it.
It is impossible to divorce who Ross was, and what he stood for, from the statue itself. Ross grew Texas A&M University during his term as president at a time when higher education was segregated and intended to benefit white men only. The legacy of unequal treatment and discrimination lives on at Texas A&M and is validated by the veneration of men like Ross.
Texas A&M is a much different university than it was during Ross’ reign. According to the institution’s student demographic report, nearly 40 percent of the student body are students of color and roughly 24 percent are Latinx. This ratio places Texas A&M on the verge of becoming the first state flagship in Texas to reach the status of a Hispanic Serving Institution.
It is time to stop treating students of color as inconsequential “minorities” that the university uses to celebrate “diversity” without doing the work needed to welcome them, accept them, support them, invest in them and empower them.
In the wake of the violent killings of thousands of black lives, it is time to remove Ross’ statue and follow the lead of national institutions that are boldly reckoning with their histories. NASCAR banned Confederate flags, the University of Alabama removed Confederate plaques and UT-Austin athletes staged the #WeAreOne strike for racial justice. Texas A&M must face its sullen history. Only then can enacting policies — such as the building of Latinx and black student centers, cluster hires of black historians and scholars and the development of consequences for hateful acts and rhetoric — change campus climate and create a university that reflects what Texas A&M is today.
We cannot bring back the lives we’ve lost to racial injustice, but we can create new traditions.
Hernández, McNamara and Hinojosa are faculty in the history department at Texas A&M. Plankey-Videla is faculty in sociology and Collins in English. This statement represents Latino/a and Mexican American studies; Africana studies; and the Multicultural Education Program at Texas A&M University.