University of Texas at Austin students are circulating a petition “to condemn racial violence and support Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities on UT’s campus.” One of the petitioners’ demands is the renaming of certain campus buildings—among them James Hogg Auditorium—named for individuals who perpetuated racism during their lifetimes. For the same reason they have called for the removal of the James Hogg Statue that currently stands near the Main Building on campus.
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health stands with these students and supports efforts to transform the campus landscape to one that better reflects UT Austin’s stated commitment to diversity as well as the Hogg Foundation’s own core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes the renaming of Hogg Auditorium and the removal of the James Hogg statue.
On June 3, we publicly expressed our strong condemnation of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. We highlighted the trauma-causing impacts of racism and racial violence, as well as our collective responsibility to examine our personal and collective roles in perpetuating it. To quote the statement, “We recognize that our cardinal aim, improving mental health for Texans, cannot be achieved while communities of color are undervalued, unequal, and systemically oppressed.”
In short, the systematic oppression of communities of color, and the brutal history from which present-day inequities arose, is not news to us. Therefore, it is not asking too much for us to go beyond mere expressions of solidarity and excavate our own history of complicity with the structures of oppression that people are now rising up against.
About James Hogg, here is what we know. While considered a progressive for his time (among his signature accomplishments were promoting anti-lynching legislation and challenging railroad monopolies), it is true that Hogg also advocated for a law segregating the railroad cars in his 1890 campaign for governor, and then signed that law after assuming office in 1891. Segregation was deeply woven into the fabric of U.S. society during Hogg’s lifetime, in ways that transcended “liberal” and “conservative” labeling.
Hogg’s vocal support of anti-lynching legislation is certainly noteworthy and has been frequently lauded. According to one study of the period, Hogg made a serious appeal to African American voters in his re-election campaign of 1892, and his opposition to lynching was a central plank. He intervened in individual cases where it appeared a mob lynching might occur, and in 1893 he petitioned the state legislature, unsuccessfully, to pass an anti-lynching bill.[i]
Indeed, African American voters were impressed enough to campaign for Hogg and even organize ‘Hogg clubs’ throughout the state. It has been suggested that 1892 was the first election in which significant numbers of African American voters deserted the Republican Party to enter the Democratic fold.[ii]
What we’re left with is an influential figure whose opposition to lynching stood side-by-side with his upholding the white power structure—a contradiction which should neither surprise us nor prevent a frank reappraisal of James Hogg’s legacy today. In Hogg’s time it was possible to uphold segregation on grounds of public safety and order—the paternalistic assumption that Jim Crow protected blacks as much as it did whites. Today we regard this assumption as breathtakingly naïve, as well we should. Consider the trade-off: the most basic protections for the physical safety of blacks in exchange for their continued stigmatization and exclusion from public life. It is a compromise that might have made sense for a 19th century politician but is not consistent with principles of justice and fairness in 2020.
UT students are facing an unprecedentedly stressful time. Not only are they coping with a pandemic that isn’t finished with us yet, but also tremendous economic uncertainty and a worsening racial climate. Their well-being matters more to us than the names of buildings and statues. For students of color especially, our core values compel us to support them in their efforts to make their campus home a more hospitable place to live, learn and thrive.
We wish to stress that the Hogg Foundation is named for the philanthropic legacies of James Hogg’s children—Ima, Will and Mike. It was they who established the foundation in 1940. But as events march on and we continue to uncover our history, we are ready to be further transformed by what we learn, and to decide that there is more we must do to advance racial equity and to fully live out our mission of promoting mental health and well-being for all Texans.
[i] Cantrell, G. (2020). The People’s Revolt: Texas Populists and the Roots of American Liberalism. Yale University Press.
[ii] Teja, J. de la, Marks, P., & Tyler, R. (2003). Texas: Crossroads of North America (1 edition). Cengage Learning.