Florida State University's dubious tribute

Wilhelm Murg
2/25/04

Tallahassee, Fla. - On January 30 Florida State University dedicated a new bronze sculpture on their campus. The work, "Integration," by sculptor W. Stanley "Sandy" Proctor, pays tribute to some of the first African-American students who were admitted to the university in the 1960s.

One of the figures depicted is Doby Flowers, FSU's first African-American Homecoming Queen. The figure of Flowers is wearing an American Indian-styled headdress, which was the custom at the school until the 1970s. The United Native America group (www.UnitedNativeAmerica.com), founded by Mike Graham, has protested the use of Indian mascots and imagery over the last few years and they are no more impressed with the symbolism as a historic depiction than they are with the current use of Indian imagery as school mascots. The other two figures in the larger-than-life bronze sculpture are of Maxwell Courtney, the first African-American to graduate from FSU and Fred Flowers, the first African-American to wear an FSU athletic uniform. FSU commissioned the statue two years ago under the leadership of President Emeritus Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte.

In a letter to FSU Graham wrote: "The American Indian community is taking a strong stand against Florida State University for allowing a sculpture to be placed on campus grounds showing an African-American student dressed up as an American Indian Chief." The letter went on to state that United Native America is calling for the removal of the sculpture from campus grounds, that the sculpture is a misuse of Indian heritage, and that it was wrong when FSU let student homecoming queens dress up as an Indian in the past and today it's still a misuse of Indian heritage. The letter also stated that United Native America is speaking for the FSU Indian community and it's national membership in calling on the FSU Board of Trusties to take all steps to have the sculpture removed from campus grounds and that "this is a civil rights issue, it should be handled as one, the statue is racist and a put down to our Indian heritage. FSU cannot say they are honoring one race of people and show racism toward another race in doing so."

"It's a depiction of an African-American woman as the first African-American Homecoming Queen of the university," Graham told Indian Country Today. "They no longer wear the headdress anymore. That was in the early part of the university's history that they did that, but it was wrong then and it's wrong now. They could have presented her (Flowers) in any form they wanted to, but they chose to depict her as a Homecoming Queen in Native dress. It was totally inappropriate, even for the tribes in their area. War bonnets, the headdress, were worn by the Western Indian tribes, not the tribes in Florida, not the Seminoles. That is a misrepresentation of our heritage."

A spokeswoman for FSU, Lee Hinkle, Vice President for University Relations, sent a press release to ICT that stated: "The Homecoming Queen is depicted wearing a Native American style headdress as was the custom here until the 1970s. Since that time, FSU has worked diligently to correct inaccurate representations of Seminole culture, and the headdress is no longer used ... During the creation of the sculpture, there was discussion within the university community about whether to depict the Queen with the headdress. Ultimately, the decision was made to include the headdress in the sculpture to accurately capture that moment in 1970, and the leadership of the Seminole Tribe of Florida has indicated it is supportive of the sculpture as it stands."

When asked to comment on FSU's statement, Graham said: "The issue still stands; it's not just up to the Seminole tribe of Florida to say it's OK to use other tribes heritage. The Seminole tribe is also for Indian mascots. We will and should push the issue. Florida State University was out of line back in the 1970s and it's still wrong."

Representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida could not be reached for comment.

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