A small Twitter storm has gained some momentum after Hampton University, a historically Black college in Virginia, includes a statue of President George H.W. Bush among several other statues of notable historical figures.
The outrage stemmed from Bush’s mixed legacy when it comes to African Americans.
Hundreds gathered Sunday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Hampton’s Founder’s Day to officially unveil a new campus landmark called Legacy Park that was commissioned by the university’s trustees, the university said in a press release.
The park features several sculpted figures—including civil rights leaders and U.S. presidents—who have some connection to the university.
“The area that we are getting to unveil now, Legacy Park, is one that will further contribute to the beauty of this outstanding campus, while standing as a lasting memorial of people who have made a lasting impact on us. Legacy Park was established by the Hampton University Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Chairman Wesley Coleman and we wanted to memorialize a few of the people that have had a major impact on this great institution,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey at the ceremony.
The statues included well-known figures in Black history, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama. Few people know some of the others, such as Mary Peake who conducted the first lessons taught under the historic Emancipation Oak located on the university’s waterfront campus.
In his remarks, Harvey highlighted William Howard Taft, a former U.S. president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as one of the lesser-known figures. He explained that Taft also served as president of the Hampton University Board of Trustees.
Bush, who died in November, is a familiar figure but his legacy raised eyebrows about why a statue of the 41st president was included.
The former president “demonstrated a long-standing support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) over his career” and delivered the 1991 commencement address at Hampton, the school noted.
However, he’s also remembered for exploiting the racist Willie Horton ad to his political advantage during his 1988 presidential. A conservative PAC produced the ad about the African-American convicted murderer who raped a white woman when he was out on furlough. Bush used every opportunity on the campaign trail to stoke white fear of Black men and paint himself as tough on crime.
Bush also came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas.