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Matthew Gaines statue to be dedicated at Texas A&M on Nov. 19
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Matthew Gaines statue to be dedicated at Texas A&M on Nov. 19

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13th Annual MLK Breakfast

Chance Medlin contributes to a blank portrait of Matthew Gaines for visitors to color while checking out the Everybody Gaines exhibit at the Reynolds Gallery at Texas A&M in February 2020.

A statue of Matthew Gaines will be unveiled and dedicated on Texas A&M’s campus at 3 p.m. Nov. 19.

The statue will be in the Janacek Plaza, near Rudder Tower and the Student Services Building.

Gaines is a former slave and Washington County’s first black senator. He was instrumental in passing Senate Bill 276, which created the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas under the Land Grant College Act of 1862, also known as the Morrill Act.

An effort to get a statue of Gaines on A&M’s campus dates back to the 1980s. In 2017, the Matthew Gaines Initiative was formed with a primary focus of putting the statue on campus.

In June 2020, after a fundraising campaign, the Gaines Initiative announced it had raised more than $350,000, which included receiving a $100,000 donation from A&M Chancellor John Sharp. After meeting fundraising goals, leaders of the Gaines Initiative changed the group’s name to the Matthew Gaines Society and expanded the organization’s mission.

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About 70 artists applied to be the statue’s artist, who was selected in November.

Although A&M announced in January that the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue, which was the focus of several protests last year, would remain in Academic Plaza, a task force was established to help tell more of A&M’s history through iconography.

Former interim A&M president John L. Junkins released a progress report in May outlining efforts made to address diversity, equity and inclusion from the university’s eight-step action plan approved by A&M’s Board of Regents in January.

In the progress report, the task force on campus historical displays recommended using the entire campus to tell university history, adding that more diverse types of art should be added since 30% of items around campus are bronze statues of historical figures.

The task force focused on three main plazas – Academic Plaza, the area between the Academic Building and Cushing Library and West Campus – to implement new historical art. Designs of the first two plazas recommended pathways and locations within Academic Plaza that could highlight various historic events. An example included the space near the Ross statue focusing on state legislation that Gaines participated in as well as growth the university saw under Sul Ross.

The Gaines Society also worked in collaboration with A&M Transportation Services and the student senate to rename bus route 36 as the “Matthew Gaines” route. The name change was approved in November 2020 and was announced in January 2021.

In February, A&M’s student senate added a question to student election ballots for Gaines Society leaders to see how many students were aware of Gaines and his contributions to A&M. Former Gaines Society President Erica Pauls told The Eagle in February that a survey released the semester before the Matthew Gaines Initiative was formed showed that only 16% of respondents were aware of him, adding the Gaines Society hoped to increase awareness about him.

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With preliminary concepts for changes in campus designs mapped out and a pilot program for increasing Black student admission commitments under their belt, Texas A&M officials are moving forward with the recently approved four-year, $24.75 million plan to address diversity.

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