By Associated Press - Thursday, July 2, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A petition seeking to remove a statue of J. William Fulbright from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville campus is receiving support from both students and alumni.

The petition, which also requests that Fulbright’s name be removed from the arts and sciences college, had 5,700 signatures as of Wednesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Most signatures have come recently, though the petition started almost a year ago.

The former U.S. senator is known for creating the international educational exchange program named after him in 1945. Prior to becoming senator, he was president of the university and served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I’m a Fulbright alum and I can’t believe I never even knew how racist he was until now and I’m really disappointed in the U of A for tarnishing every arts and sciences student diploma w(ith) his name,” Madi Watkins, a 2019 graduate, commented on the petition.

Black student leaders have recently criticized Fulbright’s record on civil rights. The Black Student Caucus, which promoted the petition, did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

The push to remove Fulbright’s legacy comes at a time colleges and universities are making changes on their campuses to address controversial figures.

“We are having these very conversations on campus currently, not only with our student leaders, but also with our faculty and staff. We are expanding the campus dialogue in the coming days with the goal of establishing a plan to address the legacies as well as the tragedies of Arkansas history on our campus,” Mark Rushing, a university spokesman, said in an email.

Randall Woods, a UA history professor, said Fulbright was a segregationist.

“He signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956, a declaration by southern congressmen and senators promising a massive effort to obstruct the Brown decision,” Woods said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case. The court ruled in 1954 that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

Fulbright spoke about how “it was just the prejudice of the times, of his constituents,” Woods said. “But I think that he shared some of that prejudice.”

Willy Foote, Fulbright’s grandson, told the newspaper that Fulbright’s political actions on race should spark a conversation.

“The last few weeks have seen righteous protests as this country comes to grips with its original sin of slavery against people of color. We are confronting our shameful history with dissenting voices, long ignored,” Foote said.

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