Rice University Amends History With Slavery By Relocating Founder's Remains


In a transformative endeavor that bridges the past with the present, Rice University is currently in the midst of a comprehensive redesign of its Houston campus. At the heart of this ambitious initiative is the relocation of the remains of the university's founder, William "Willy" Rice, symbolizing a nuanced reckoning with the institution's historical ties to slavery.

Rice University Amends History With Slavery By Relocating Founder's Remains
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Sandra Seitamaa)

Founder's Remains Moved to Glenwood Cemetery

The Founder's Memorial statue, once a prominent figure nestled in the heart of the campus, now stands void of its historical underpinning. The remains of William Rice, previously interred beneath this statue, have found a new resting place in Glenwood Cemetery.This poignant move marks a departure from traditional narratives and exemplifies the university's commitment to actively engage with its complex history.

The physical relocation of the Founder's Memorial statue is a visual representation of the university's commitment to acknowledge and reassess its historical connections. Once perched atop its pedestal, the statue is now slated for a new location within the Academic Quadrangle. This shift signifies not only a change in physical placement but a deliberate move towards recontextualizing the founder's legacy within the evolving narrative of Rice University.

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A Family Plot for William Rice

In a collaborative effort between the university and the descendants of William Rice, his remains have been transferred to a family plot. Here, he will be interred alongside his brother and nephews - all university trustees and benefactors. This decision reflects a careful balance of preserving familial ties while acknowledging the need for a broader dialogue on the university's historical roots.

Rice University's spokesperson, Jeff Falk, underscores that the relocation of William Rice's remains is an integral part of a broader quad redesign project announced in January 2022. The comprehensive redesign seeks to create visually transformed spaces while preserving historical context, acknowledging the university's past in a manner that fosters understanding and growth.

Task Force Initiatives and Unearthed Documents

The impetus for this redesign emerged in 2019 when Rice University launched a task force dedicated to exploring the institution's historical connections to slavery, segregation, and racial injustice. Unearthed documents from this investigation revealed William Rice's specific intention to serve white Texans with the university. These revelations cast a new light on the university's origins, prompting a necessary reckoning with its past.

While other Texas campuses grapple with legislative changes and rollbacks of diversity initiatives, Rice University's response stands out. Accepting the task force's recommendation, the Rice Board of Trustees opted for a redesigned courtyard, acknowledging the imperative for change while preserving historical elements. This response exemplifies a commitment to confronting the complexities of history head-on.

To bring this vision to life, Rice University enlisted the expertise of landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz. The redesign aims not only to reshape physical spaces but to create gathering areas within the quad. Tables, chairs, and shaded spaces are envisioned to foster a sense of community and reflection. This transformative project, scheduled for completion in late April, signifies a monumental shift for the university.

As Rice University undergoes this multifaceted redesign, it emerges as a beacon of change within the higher education landscape. The relocation of William Rice's remains and the redesign of the campus serve as powerful symbols of an ongoing dialogue within educational institutions about historical legacies and the narratives they wish to embody. This collaborative vision not only acknowledges the complexities of the past but actively shapes a future that aligns with contemporary values, demonstrating that institutions can evolve while honoring their heritage.

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