Thursday, January 25, 2007

Great Money, Bad Legacy

Fmr. U.S. Sen. George Smathers, like any man that reaches such a level of power, was without a doubt a very interesting person and in his later years, very generous to our university. He served in the U.S. Congress during a very difficult era in our nation's history, when segregation was the rule of the land and the policy by which the entire nation (not merely the South) was run. However, when the civil rights movement began to grow and gain momentum, several leaders as well as every day white and black citizens had a decision before them, 'were we truly living separate but equal' - and - 'was the state of segregation constitutional, was it moral?'

National leaders like Senators Smathers & Byrd along with state leaders such as Eugene "Bull" Connor and George Wallace, in addition to countless other Dixiecrats stood in the way of movement of King, Meredith, Parks, X. Later in their lives, many of them changed their ways but others remained bitter till the end. Arguments have been made that many segregationalists pushed this line to hold onto their jobs, but maintaining an immoral status quo remains immoral despite its popularity.

While I'm not sure what the failed senate resoution read like, I'm glad that the UF Senate voted it down. Aside from the $20 million that Mr. Smathers donated to UF, no one would be discussing a resolution for him in chambers. I am very uneasy with live donors having buildings named after themselves, because it sends the wrong message. Buildings should be named after great academic or community figures, you go to a building at a university and you read these names and your gut instinct is that these wonderfully built complexes were named after great war heroes or genius mathematicians or great philosophers but whoever they are, you normally mourn them because you think they've probably been dead for hundreds of years. But in many cases the namesake might be a person that held up progress, hampered the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dropped a fat check over at Tigret Hall and is washing down a BLT with an ice cold Blue Moon over at Swamp with his feet rested on a'd never think that.

The Senate did its job. Certain pieces of legislation, such as resolutions honoring the deceased are often touching (but to seasoned members of the Branch, they are often considered a waste of the Student's resources unofficially, but part of the symbolic aspect of student governance). Still, even symbolic gestures have certain guidelines and I applaud the Senate for taking even its symbolic responsibilites seriously.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that this resolution did not pass. Senator Smathers was a man who has done a tremendous amount for our university and state. Yes I admit he had some very backward views in a very backward time in our society, but he has still demonstrated a tremendous amount of dedication to our university and state. Disregard his fiscal contributions, and look at his other feats. He was a congressman and senator from our state for 22 years. 22 YEARS!!! He represented this great state for 22 years and promoted the University of Florida throughout. Add to this the fact that he was also the Student Body President and one is compeled to overwelmingly support a resolution in his honor.

Smathers was a great man who made some great flaws. Every man has their flaws, but can we not be forgiven for them? Smathers deserves this resolution and should be honored for all he has done for UF, the state of Florida and the US.

Christian Duque said...

Sen. Smathers though backward on civil rights, a proponent of the red scare, and an avid segregationalist also made important contributions during his career of public service. However, the Student Senate needs to be considerate of its African American constituents and after only days since the MLK holiday and only days away from Black History Month, giving Smathers honors on behalf of the united student body may have seemed a bit excessive.

The Smathers family, like the Criser's & Levin's have donated substantial amounts of money to UF and have been rewarded with namesake buildings - personally I find this practice deplorable. If you want to donate - fine, but naming buildings and colleges after live-donors does not sit well with me.

Philanthropy is wonderful, but I much rather prefer the Bill Gates' style.

Anonymous said...

We cannot judge a man for being a victim of his times. The Senate showed that they are more focused on some imperfections of someone than what the overall achievements of a person is. Let us not forget that the Senate always honors a fallen student. Does the Senate research that student's background to make sure that they were moral and did not pick on anyone? Of course not. They were a Gator and that is all that mattered. Well the same goes for Smathers. His substantial estate is going to the University of Florida. His years of service in Congress went to the University of Florida. The senators who were quick to dismiss his service because he was a leader during a different and difficult time in America were wrong and should reconsider. Should the Senate move to rename the Stephen C. O'Connell Center because our former President kicked black students out of his office during a sit in? Of course not. It was a different time and one that no one is proud of. But, if we are to dismiss the leaders of that time, then are essentially dismissing the entire era, which is wrong. We must embrace our past to reach our future. It is part of UF and the State of Florida's history. Let's hope that President Bush doesn't die anytime soon, because I am sure this very Senate will find a way to not honor him since he is so "unpopular."

Christian Duque said...

Valid points, but the Senate still could not honor the man that offered to pay MLK's bail money when in jail in exchange for him 'to leave the state and never come back.' This days after the MLK holiday and days to the start of Black History Month.

All the MONEY in the world cannot wash away the decisions that Mr. Smathers made, he after all was not just some guy caught in the times, he was an active architect of American political society and that's something you have failed to properly observe.

The soda jerk at the lunch counter was caught in the times, he had to deny service to blacks at white businesses...George Smather was a United States Senator who could have brought about change and didn't and on top of that he hampered those that did try to make things better.

I am grateful to Smathers for his financial contributions and for his work for our state and country, but just because someone went to Florida that's not enough to receive SG honors (which speak for the entire Student Body). Former student status and lots of money just aren't enough. The members of Senate realize these resolutions to be purely symbolic, but they are also conscious enough to show restraint and prudence insofar as whom they pay these tributes to.

I'm sorry. Honor him and mourn him, but not in the name of the Gator Nation, not in the name of people that have serious reservations with the legacy this man was responsible for.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely cosign with Christian on that one - J.Bell