University of Missouri officials won’t remove the Thomas Jefferson statute from its Columbia campus, System President and interim Chancellor Mun Choi announced Friday in a news release.
MU sophomore Roman Leapheart started an online petition seeking removal of the statue installed in 2001. Choi’s decision came after a Thursday online meeting with Leapheart and others that Leapheart described as frustrating.
In an interview Friday, Leapheart said he was motivated not only by Jefferson’s ownership of people as slaves, but his rape of one of those people, Sally Hemings
In Friday’s release, Choi said he had consulted with members of the Board of Curators, which is scheduled to meet next Thursday in Columbia.
“We learn from history,” Choi said. “We contextualize historical figures with complex legacies. We don’t remove history.”
Along with Leapheart and Choi, participants in the Thursday meeting included leaders of the Legion of Black Collegians, three curators and university administrators.
Leapheart said he was disappointed in the decision.
“Hope is not gone,” he said “I never stop fighting. It is sad. I’m going to keep going and keep fighting.”
Leapheart said that after the meeting ended, he thought Choi wanted to take action.
“I didn’t see the change I wanted to see,” Leapheart said Thursday of the meeting. “We’re not getting results. It’s frustrating. Concerned Student 1950 happened five years ago.”
Those protests by black MU students also asked that the Jefferson statute be removed, but officials took no action. Protesters stuck notes to the statue.
The statute was placed on the Francis Quadrangle by the MU Jefferson Club, purchased from sculptor George Lundeen for $45,000. Membership in the club is open to those who donate at least $25,000 to the university.
Reached by telephone, Lundeen said he was not offended by the petition and was unconcerned about whether it is removed from its current location.
There are good arguments for removing it and some good arguments for keeping it, he said.
You have to listen to the arguments,” Lundeen said. “There are times those arguments are strong.”
Views of historic figures change over time, he said.
“We have a history,” Lundeen said. ”People can’t change history, but they can change the way they look at history.“
Lundeen said the decision was up to university officials, who are in a sensitive position after already encountering the Concerned Student 1950 protests.
“The University of Missouri, I can see where they might be, as we say in the West, a little gun shy,” Lundeen said.
Jefferson was both a cerebral thinker and owner of people, Lundeen said.
“Thomas Jefferson was an enigma,” Lundeen said. “He wrote very eloquently of the rights of man and at the same time was a slaveholder.”
Leapheart said he had nothing against the artwork of the statue, it’s the subject he objects to.
“He got paid for it,” Leapheart said. “I’m not going to knock anybody’s art. He just made the statue.”
The statue is near Thomas Jefferson’s original tombstone in the Francis Quadrangle. Leapheart said he not seeking for MU to remove both.
“The first step in riding a bicycle is putting on a helmet,” Leapheart said.
The tombstone was donated to the university in 1885 to recognize its position as the first state university in the area that was part of the Lousiana Purchase, which Jefferson completed in 1803 as president.
Jefferson didn’t die in Columbia and Leapheart said the tombstone should be at Jefferson’s home in Monticello.
In the news release, Choi wrote that the university was committed to maintaining open lines of communication and recommended finding ways to place the statue in a proper historical context.
An “online exclusive” is an article or story that does not run in the print edition of the Houston Herald but appears on the newspaper’s website. Typically 2 or 3 are posted online every Wednesday morning. It’s another feature designed for users who purchase full web access from the Herald.