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Diversity Ahead of Its Time

In 2017, the statue of Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross, which sits on the Texas A&M campus, came under fire. Ross served his Texas constituency in many capacities. He was the 19th governor of Texas and in 1891 became president of the Texas A&M College. He was born in the Republic of Texas and during the Civil War, served in the Army of the Confederate States of America, rising to the rank of general.

With the Union preserved, Reconstruction mandates called for the suspension of voting and office-holding rights for those who served as officers in the Confederate Army. With the end of Reconstruction, Ross was elected sheriff of McLennan County, thus beginning his ascent to the state’s highest offices.

Well into the second decade of the 21st century, and following a series of atrocities and injustices toward African-Americans on American soil, historical remnants of the old Confederacy were called into questions. The University of Texas chose to remove three statues of Confederate war heroes from its Austin campus. Activists called for the removal of the Ross statue from the A&M campus.

President Michael Young and Chancellor John Sharp chose to let the statue remain.

“Anyone who knows the true history of Ross would not ask for his statue to be removed,” said Sharp.

As president of A&M, Ross helped turn the school’s fortunes around. He died on January 3, 1898, while still at the helm of the college. Of Ross, the Dallas Morning News wrote, “He leaves a name that will be honored as long as chivalry, devotion to duty and spotless integrity are standards of our civilization and an example which ought to be an inspiration to all young men of Texas who aspire to careers of public usefulness and honorable renown.”

Some would suggest that racial and gender inequality remain important issues tearing at the seems of our nation’s social fabric. But, in wartime, specifically during World War II, a unified national front against a feared and fierce foreign aggressor, required our nation's leaders to call upon every American, despite racial and gender biases, to come to the defense of the country.

 

Matthew Bizzell is an instructor at San Jacinto Community College in Houston. He is in pursuit of his PhD in Literature and History from the University of Houston. While obtaining his dual Bachelor of Arts degree in English-Creative Writing and Philosophy at Texas A&M, he enlisted to participate in the Cushing Memorial Library’s “Mapping Historic Aggieland” project. In that role, he did extensive historical work on what was known at the time as the Riverside Campus. He went on to earn his Masters degree from A&M in American Literature. Matt is married and originally from San Antonio.