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Rice University relocates its founder’s remains after reckoning with his ties to slavery

By Stephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune

Rice University relocates its founder’s remains after reckoning with his ties to slavery” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The remains of Rice University’s founder have been moved to a family plot in Glenwood Cemetery as part of a redesign of the Houston campus and the school’s reckoning with its founding father’s ties to slavery.

The remains of William “Willy” Rice were previously buried under the Founder’s Memorial statue in the middle of campus. The statue has been taken off its pedestal and is set to be moved to a new location within the school’s Academic Quadrangle.

The descendants of Rice agreed to have his remains transferred to a family plot, where he will be buried alongside his brother and his nephews, all university trustees and benefactors.

“We look forward to maintaining dialogue with the family of William Marsh Rice as we endeavor to honor and acknowledge the university’s rich, ever-evolving history and promising future together,” the university said in a statement released last week.

University spokesperson Jeff Falk said in an email Thursday that removing Rice’s remains from campus is part of the quad redesign project announced in January 2022. The redesign follows a campus-wide effort to reckon with its past after student protests led to the university founder’s legacy being scrutinized.

In 2019, Rice launched a task force to explore the university’s historical connections to slavery, segregation and racial injustice. Documents revealed William Rice set aside money before he died to help establish the school with the specific goal of serving white Texans. They also showed that Rice was the owner of 15 slaves and served in a local slave patrol group in Houston.

Calls for removing the monument at Rice University were part of a more significant student-led movement that engulfed the state of Texas and the nation following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, leading to cries to end racial injustice on campus.

That summer, students called on the University of Texas at Austin to stop playing “The Eyes of Texas,” the school song with historical minstrel show ties. Aggies also petitioned Texas A&M University to take down the statue of Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross, a former governor and Confederate general.

Texas campuses responded by implementing some significant changes like diversity training, increased scholarships for students of color, a new curriculum on racial inequity and more recruitment for diverse faculties. Most of those initiatives have been backtracked after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 17 earlier this year, which bans programs and initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at state universities.

While ”The Eyes of Texas” still plays at UT-Austin games and the statue of “Sul” still stands, the university leadership at Rice accepted the recommendation of the task force to redesign the courtyard and move the statue from the center of the quadrangle but keep it in the area with space for historical context.

The Rice Board of Trustees hired landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz to create gathering spaces and beautify where the statute once stood. The redesign will have several areas with tables, chairs and shade where people can gather, study and relax, according to the project’s concept art. The project is expected to be completed in late April.

“This is a major moment of transformation and opportunity for the quad to outwardly tell what Rice’s values are in the 21st century,” Nelson Byrd Woltz owner and principal architect Thomas Woltz said in a joint statement with the university.

Disclosure: Rice University, Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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