A University of Nevada, Reno committee formed to look at allegations that racism is condoned or commemorated by having a statue of John Mackay on campus will recommend it not be taken down.
A petition that circulated last year contends that because the sculptor, Gutson Borglum, was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, the statue should be removed.
A report with the official recommendation that the statue stay will be given to UNR President Brian Sandoval by early next month, along with a recommendation that a display be added to show the impact of the development of the West on people of color and tribal communities.
“We don’t believe when the statue was commissioned in 1906 there was any evidence of intentional racism,” said committee chair Annie Huhta, director of the Mackay School of Earth Sciences & Engineering
“The discussion about the Mackay statue is notably different than most of the conversations we hear about statues and monuments in the news today,” Huhta said. “His statue was not crafted to commemorate a racist individual, to condone or celebrate racist acts or beliefs, or to perpetuate oppression.”
Huhta said she learned a lot about Mackay while leading the committee, including his struggles with prejudice and hardship as an Irish Catholic immigrant in 19th century America. One of the mining barons on Virginia City’s Comstock Lode, Mackay’s heirs donated money to build the School of Mines, Mackay Stadium and more.
“While there are some perspectives that feel it is appropriate for the statue to be removed, there are an equal number of perspectives that suggest alternatives,” Huhta said.
Huhta said the final decision on the statue, and whether other displays are added to campus, will be made by Sandoval and the Nevada System of Higher Education, the governing board over the state’s public colleges.
The committee of 19 people, formed in October, was made up of students, faculty and community members including representatives from Reno Black Lives Matter, the Black Student Organization, Indigenous Student Organization and historical preservationists.
The statue on the south end of campus overlooks the Quad. It was erected in 1906 and became the subject of an online petition calling for its removal seven months ago.
The petition has 235 signers, the most recent added five months ago. The Reno Gazette Journal was not able to reach the petition’s creator.
The statue and its possible fate made headlines again recently after a March 1 story in UNR’s student newspaper, The Sagebrush. The story talked about the history of the statue, including its commission by Mackay’s son, Clarence, after his father’s death in 1902.
The petition called for its removal in part because sculptor Gutzon Borglum was connected to the KKK some years after his creation of the Mackay statue. Borglum is best known for creating Mount Rushmore.
The petition said, “By allowing John Mackay’s statue to remain on our campus, we are supporting the racist roots of its creator.”
No plans for Kaepernick statue, yet
UNR said there are no plans to erect a statue of Colin Kaepernick,
In 2020, a Facebook group named UNR Alumni Campaign for Statue of Kaepernick Kneeling in Mackay Stadium, was pushing for a statue of the star Wolf Pack football player who went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers. The group has 1,500 members. Student groups were also having similar discussions.
Kaepernick gained worldwide attention for his 2016 silent protest, kneeling during the national anthem to bring awareness to the oppression of Black people, police brutality and racial inequality. After turning free agent that year, he was never signed by any NFL team.
“We are proud of all of our alumni, Colin Kaepernick being one of the most recognizable,” said UNR spokesperson Kerri Garcia Hendricks.
“We have had students, faculty and alumni talk about how we could recognize the social justice conversation Colin started in this county by taking a knee,” she said. “President Sandoval is considering the best way to recognize Colin, looking at the options that are available, such as many of the University’s prestigious awards that may be appropriate, such as honorary degrees, Distinguished Nevadan awards and the President’s Medal. “
UNR said that the athletics department recently honored Kaepernick by inducting him and five others, including two from the 2010 football team, into its 2020 Hall of Fame class.
Just after being named UNR’s president, Sandoval, asked about a possible statue, said what needs to happen first is a conversation with Kaepernick.
“I think he is somebody we should welcome back to campus. Colin is somebody I appreciate and respect,” Sandoval told the Reno Gazette Journal.
“As I walk the campus, there are some other things we need to think about. There is not a statue of woman. … We don’t have a statue of a Native American … or an Asian.”
This article has been updated to clarify that Borglum’s connection to the KKK came after his creation of the Mackay statue, and removing an inaccurate reference to statues of Confederate leaders. He did not complete work on that project.
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.