UW-Madison students call for removal of Lincoln statue, ‘Just because he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean he was pro-Black’

MADISON, Wis. — After protesters tore down two statues at the state capitol, attention is now turning to the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The statue has overlooked Bascom Hill for more than a hundred years and is a staple of graduate photos, but what he symbolizes for marginalized students isn’t land-grant universities or even emancipating slaves.

“He was also very publicly anti-Black,” said Nalah McWhorter, the president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union. “Just because he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean he was pro-Black. He said a lot in his presidential campaigns. His fourth presidential campaign speech, he said that he believes there should be an inferior and superior, and he believes white people should be the superior race.”

It’s a not-often-taught fact about Lincoln, but it’s true. It is part of why she and the rest of her organization are pushing to get him removed, and Lincoln isn’t the only one.

Chamberlain Rock, across from the scenic overlook of Lake Mendota on Observatory Drive, used to bear the name of a racial slur, another lesser-known fact since the rock now stands as a memorial to a former university president, Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin.

“Renaming it doesn’t remove the history of oppression that in symbolizes and perpetuates,” McWhorter said.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement to News 3 Now the university is continuing work on creating a diverse and inclusive campus, but she added she supports keeping the statue of Lincoln.

“Like those of all presidents, Lincoln’s legacy is complex and contains actions which, 150 years later, appear flawed,” she said. “However, when the totality of his tenure is considered, Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of our greatest presidents, having issued the Emancipation Proclamation, persuaded Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment ending slavery and preserved the Union during the Civil War.”

Blank said the president’s legacy should be both celebrated and critiqued.

McWhorter said she doesn’t understand that kind of response.

“For them to want to protect a breathless, lifeless statue more than they care about the experiences of their black students that have been crying out for help for the past 50, 60 years, it’s just a horrible feeling as a student, as a black and brown student on campus,” she said.

Blank said the university is working on a public history project and a land acknowledgement in recognition that the university sits upon Ho-Chunk land.

While the statues at the capitol were forcibly removed, McWhorter said her organization isn’t trying to do that. She said she wants the university to remove both Lincoln and Chamberlain Rock.