The statue of Eppes has been a lightning rod on campus for student activists who say the former Tallahassee mayor was a major slave owner and his recognition is undeserved.

A renewed student-driven effort is underway to convince Florida State University's administration to permanently remove a statue of Francis Eppes from campus.


That's in addition to removing his name from the building housing the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.


The statue of Eppes has been a lightning rod on campus for student activists who say the former Tallahassee mayor was a major slave owner and his recognition is undeserved.


The controversy resurfaced in July 2018 when the 15-member President’s Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions agreed the statue should be removed from its longstanding location in front of the Westcott Building.


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Research showed Eppes was a slave owner and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. The advisory panel also learned Eppes was not the founder of FSU.


Eppes, a seven-term Tallahassee mayor, was the grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. He did help lead the effort to locate what was then called Seminary West of the Suwannee River, which became FSU.


The namings panel, created by President John Thrasher, recommended the statue be "replaced with a more complete and historically accurate recognition of the university’s founders, the participation of slavery in the construction of the university and the Seminole Tribe or other First Nation people."


FSU removed the statue without notice in July 2018 and placed it in storage. However, it was relocated just north of Westcott on Mina Jo Powell Green in May 2019, again without fanfare.


But now, black student leaders are demanding the statue be removed entirely from campus and the Eppes name stripped from the academic building. The move is supported by a racially diverse mix of students and alumni.


This comes as demands are placed on Thrasher to take Doak S. Campbell’s name off of FSU’s football stadium. The late FSU president led the school in the mid-20th century as it went from all-female to coeducational, but reportedly opposed the racial integration of the student body.


Both efforts have been initiated following protests across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Across the nation, Floyd’s death is serving as an awakening to practices deemed racially insensitive, from police departments to the halls of academia.


A Change.org online petition created about three weeks ago now has generated over 3,300 signatures and counting.


Among the groups expressing support for the removal is Lady Spirithunters, dedicated to spreading spirit and tradition at Florida State University.


"In light of recent events, we want to acknowledge the racism, injustice, and inequality that occurs on our campus and do what we can to fight against it," the group’s executive board wrote in a Twitter post.


"In support of the FSU student body, alumni, and fans, Lady Spirithunters is demanding the permanent removal of the Francis Eppes statue, the renaming of Eppes Hall, and the renaming of Doak Campbell Stadium."


The online petition was created by Khamare Garner, a fourth-year student from Central Florida majoring in political science and history.


"It is unbelievable that a university that claims to defend diversity and inclusiveness would allow a former slave owner’s name and likeness to be etched in places of honor," Garner said in the petition.


"The statue of Mr. Eppes sits ominously in the courtyard of his namesake building, providing a bewildering and threatening irony to the thousands of African-American students that pass it."


Garner said he attended a protest march in Orlando, and afterward started thinking of what he could do to make change in Tallahassee, specifically at FSU. He was aware of the recommendations of the namings panel, as well as the university’s decision to relocate the statue but not permanently remove it from campus.


"I thought this was a good jumping off point for real change," Garner said, adding this was another chance for FSU to correct something many find offensive. "If (they) can’t remove one statue, then how do they expect to accomplish systematic change?"


Garner added that it is "inconceivable that a university that takes tax dollars for the African-American community will allow a statue of a former slave owner on its campus."


Garner suggests Florida State rename Eppes Hall in honor of the late Rev. C.K. Steele, the prominent pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and a noted civil rights leader.


The university did not have an immediate response to the push to remove the statue and the Eppes name from the college.


Among those supporting Garner’s effort is Miles Feacher, a fourth-year international affairs major from St. Johns County.


Feacher, a former orientation leader for incoming freshman and transfer students arriving at FSU, had an op-ed column published last week in the Tallahassee Democrat, advocating for the removal of Campbell’s name from the stadium.


As a student activist with the Center for Leadership and Social Change on campus, he said he often interacted with Black students who said they encountered racism on campus: "It is not reported because they feel no justice will be served."


He has communicated his concerns about the Eppes statue and the stadium name to Vice President for Student Affairs Amy Hecht, who told him the university is listening, and she will share the sentiments of the students with Thrasher.


"The purpose of this campaign is to hold President Thrasher and the Board of Trustees accountable to do something," Feacher said. "It’s always, ‘we hear you,’ or ‘we are listening to you,’ but never actionable steps for change, or ‘this is what we’ve done.’ "


Event planned


The Students for a Democratic Society chapter at Florida State, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee and Tallahassee Dream Defenders are planning a rally at 5 p.m. Saturday at Westcott Plaza to bring attention to the Eppes recognition on campus.


Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at bdobson@tallahassee.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.


This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.