Hampton University, a historically Black University in Virginia, revealed the newest addition to their campus, Legacy Park, with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday.
Legacy Park is located between Hampton’s Memorial Church and Ogden Hall. The area contains statues to honor people said to have supported the university’s mission over the last 150 years such as Mary Jackson, the first Black female NASA engineer, Frederick Douglass and U.S. presidents — William Howard Taft, Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush.
However, Bush’s statue is raising a few eyebrows for some due to his complicated legacy on race issues.
“President Bush demonstrated a long-standing support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities over his career,” the university said, in a press release.
The 41st U.S. president died on Nov. 30.
“I believe in giving people their credit when it is due,” Hampton President Dr. William R. Harvey said in December. “President Bush was not only a good friend of mine, but he was an extraordinary person who believed it was crucial that African Americans have access to education. I think that’s something that we must acknowledge.”
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) said in a statement in December:
“George H.W. Bush was fully committed to UNCF’s mission to increase the number of African American college graduates and to preserve Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
But Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley noted that Bush did partake in “dog whistle” politics.
“Intellectually and emotionally, he was somebody who was civil rights-minded,” Brinkley told PBS News Hour. “Bush wanted to see himself as being a man devoid of racism. But the reality is that Bush often had to do dog whistles and appeal to less enlightened Americans on race.”
When running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But later regretted it. Bush joined a group of moderate Republicans to support civil rights legislation and voted in favor of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, as a freshman Texas congressman.
During Bush’s 1988 bid for the presidency, the Willie Horton ad put out by a conservative PAC stoked racial stereotypes in regard to criminal justice in order to portray Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic opponent, as soft on crime. The ad highlighted Horton a convicted murderer who raped a white woman when he was out on a furlough program that Dukakis supported.
Though the Bush campaign didn’t technically put out the ad, Bush repeatedly brought up Horton’s name in speeches.
Rev. Jesse Jackson said that Bush regretted promoting the Willie Horton strategy.
“It was out of character for him,” Jackson told PBS. “He did it in the heat of battle.”
In 1991, Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace the retiring Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the Supreme Court; and Thomas went on to rule against affirmative action.
Bush wound up not supporting his party in 2016 because he did not endorse fellow Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election.
Twitter users, including Hampton alumni, are voicing their objection or support of the statue on campus: