The University at Buffalo (UB) in Buffalo, New York, decided to fight systemic racism by removing references to President Millard Fillmore from its campus, despite the fact that the 13th president helped found the institution.
Announcing in a Monday statement their decision is one “that aligns with the university’s commitment to fight systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all,” UB’s News Center said that Fillmore’s willingness to sign The Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act, had rendered necessary for his name to be scrubbed.
“His presidency, from 1850-53, has been widely criticized for his support of The Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,” the statement reads. “UB recognizes this remains a deeply hurtful decision, especially for African Americans.” Also noted was the fact that UB ended an annual ceremony at Fillmore’s gravesite in 2019.
Also slated for deletion are James O. Putnam and Peter B. Porter, two other figures with ties to the school whose historical legacies do not align with the institution’s present-day sensibilities.
#UBuffalo will remove the names Millard Fillmore, James O. Putnam and Peter B. Porter from four locations at UB, a decision that aligns with the university’s commitment to fight systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all. ➡️ https://t.co/6ZbbzB7G3d pic.twitter.com/fxPH2SWCp0
— UBuffalo (@UBuffalo) August 3, 2020
“Clearly, historical namings on our campus—whether academic buildings, residential halls, interior spaces or thoroughfares—carry important symbolic value,” University President Satish K. Tripathi said. “We want to ensure that these symbols align with our mission—namely, that we are a diverse, inclusive scholarly community.”
“As we consider some of these symbols, we have no intention of erasing our history. However, we can purposefully determine whom we want to honor in this way,” he added.
Millard Fillmore, a major figure in the history of Buffalo, was one of the principal founders of UB in 1846 and also served as its first chancellor until his death in 1874. He became president in 1850 upon the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor and served less than three years in the office. A major piece of legislation passed during his presidency was the five-bill Compromise of 1850, which sought to defuse the tension between the North and South as U.S. territory expanded after the Mexican-American War. Included in the Compromise was the Fugitive Slave Act, for which Fillmore was criticized even at the time.
Some historians nevertheless credit the Compromise of 1850 with postponing the Civil War. Professor James Campbell, whom The College Fix describes as “one of the only openly conservative professors” at UB, told the outlet he thought the decision to remove Fillmore from the school was “terrible,” adding:
The nation was better off because of Fillmore’s service as president—and that includes the black Americans who were not traded as slaves in DC because of the Compromise, the black Americans who were not held as slaves in southern California because of California’s admission as a free state because of the Compromise, and the black Americans not held in slavery because the western boundaries of the slave state of Texas were greatly reduced because of the Compromise.
Most of all, the North was in a stronger position to win the Civil War and end slavery ten years later because of Fillmore’s support for the Compromise. None of this would have happened without Fillmore taking the stand he did. And how do we show our gratitude? It’s not right.