"Vision 2020" and the Matthew Gaines Memorial

By Dale Baum

It's time to raise the money required to erect the statue on the TAMU campus to Matthew Gaines!

The generic "diversity statue" has been moved to the back burner by an apparent lack of funding (see The Battalion, February 25, 2000, p. 1). Yet our university is today more than ever genuinely committed, as a goal of "Vision 2020," to achieving meaningful diversity --or proclaiming the bold truth that people with different backgrounds can coexist, that they can learn to read the literature and poetry written by others, and can and should look across the artificial barriers of race without prejudice or illusion. Vision 2020 represents a commitment to academic excellence that will magnify our university's unique origins. In a university rich with tradition, and as the first public institution of higher learning in our state, it is appropriate to honor our beginnings a century and a quarter ago, and to commemorate the early steps for a free public education for all Texans. Because we stand today as the nation's only federal land, sea, and space grant university, all Aggies can look back with pride to our university's origins when courageous and farsighted Texas legislators, both black and white, came together to establish the "Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas."

In April of 1871 while serving as a senator representing the 16th district in the 12th Texas Legislature, Matthew Gaines, and every other legislator of African descent, voted for Senate Bill No. 276 that allowed Texas to take advantage of the 1862 Land Grant College Act. This Republican party inspired program set aside several million acres of federal land for the support of agricultural and industrial higher education. (The 1871 bill to establish the A. and M. College of Texas obligated the creation, if state officials chose to segregate white from black students, of another federally supported land-grant school for blacks, which subsequently became Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College.) No scholar in any reputable university or college today denies or disparages the accomplishments of Texans of African, Mexican, and German ancestry, who, along with Anglo scalawags and a few Northern carpetbaggers, tried after the Civil War to build in our state an interracial democracy on the ashes of slavery. The leadership role during Reconstruction played by Matthew Gaines in establishing Texas' first genuinely free, tax-supported public school system and first venture into higher education for all Texans is a matter of public record.

The Gaines project received the approval of President Bowen's Advisory Committee on Art Policy, won the endorsement of The Battalion (Editorial, July 27, 1995), and always had the support of a host of organizations, most notably the Aggie Republicans and the TAMU Black Former Student Association. Parts of the original text of the fundraising statement drafted on September 7, 1995, by the Matthew Gaines Memorial Committee are reprinted below:

"During the period of Reconstruction following the American Civil War, the12th Texas Legislature, which was dominated by members of the Republican party, did more for public education than any legislature that had preceded it. Matthew Gaines was a former slave who became the first African-American state senator from Washington County. He was a prominent leader in the I2th Texas Legislature. He passionately and unflaggingly supported the forward looking, albeit at the time extremely controversial, legislation that met the deadline for allowing his state to take advantage of the federal land Grant College Act, which was generally known as the Morrill Act after its sponsor, Republican congressman Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont. As members of the Texas A&M University community, we are unquestionably circuitous beneficiaries of the original vision of the men who drafted and passed in 1862 during the Civil War the Morrill Act, but we are direct legatees of Matthew Gaines. His egalitarian and progressive investment in 1871 in the future of public education in his state laid the essential foundations for the building of Texas A&M University."

President Ray Bowen and his Advisory Committee on Art Policy understand that teaching history on our campus via statutes or names on buildings is not always easy. After high school, only a small percentage of Texans will take a course in Texas history or in American history. Our university, nevertheless, has an obligation to teach or explain history in other ways than just in classrooms. The Gaines Memorial would tell history honestly. It would exemplify good historical practice to generations of students and visitors to our campus. It would avoid the pitfalls of merely selling statues to the highest qualified bidders or creating feckless and faceless monuments designed to educate nobody about nothing in particular. But, far more importantly, the Gaines Memorial would avoid the statue imbroglio that exists on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

UT is arguably the most Confederate campus in the American South. The statues erected in the early 20th century to men who never had any direct connection to the university's establishment or history, such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, along with an embarrassing inscription on a fountain that proclaims that the Civil War was exclusively fought over the issue of "states' rights," should never be refashioned in line with contemporary scholarship, for they are living memorials to how the brief semblance of justice achieved for black Texans during Reconstruction was subsequently cruelly betrayed. This itself is a valuable lesson to learn and understand. But when UT compounded its tangible "diversity" problem by capitulating to the popular decision to counter the statues to Lee and Davis with a statue to Martin Luther King, Jr., it flunked the opportunity to educate. The statues to ex-Confederates and King teach nothing about the history of UT or about the history of our state, except perhaps the sadly misguided and blatantly wrong notion that racist whites stood for segregation and injustice, while men of color worked for integration and justice. One should keep in mind the destructive implications of the UT quick-fix "diversity" solution: there is a round-the-clock security guard at the King statue to protect it from possible vandalism.

Commemorating Gaines and the accomplishments of the 12th Texas Legislature, however, would avoid the pitfall of "diversity" when it is linked with the worst forms of "political correctness." What can be a generous recognition of cultural and racial diversity on our campus need not necessarily be turned into worthless sanitized memorials, symbolic programs headed by yet another administrator, or security problems for the campus police. Erecting a statue to Matthew Gaines, --"a former slave, community leader, minister, Republican State Senator and courageous leader in the 12th Legislature, which established free public education in the State of Texas an enabled the founding of Texas A&M University" - not only would present history eloquently, honestly, and correctly to generations of future Aggies and to a larger public, but it would also bring with it a little more hope for our campus, our state, and our world.

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