Come this fall, the University of Buffalo will be removing the names of Millard Fillmore, James Putnam and Peter Porter from their campus. UB is calling it a decision that aligns with the university’s commitment to fight systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all.
Less than a decade ago, UB was holding commemorative events in honor of U.S. President Millard Fillmore's contribution to the region.
Monday, UB announced they are removing his name across campus in part because of his support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. UB President Satish Tripathi said they want the symbols seen throughout their facilities to represent a diverse, inclusive scholarly community.
“Make sure that we understand that we have no intention of erasing our history,” Tripathi said. “But we can purposefully determine whom we want to honor (here).”
The person they plan on honoring now is Buffalo civil rights pioneer Mary Talbert, who was a founder of the Niagara Movement, a precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“She was one of the nation's most prominent activists for civil rights and women's rights. So I think it's really important for us to recognize people who have contributed to the Civil Rights/Women's Rights movement,” he said.
While not as popular as Fillmore, Putnam was cited for being outgoing with his racist views.
“If you look at Mr.Putnam, he was one of the founders of UB when he served as the chancellor he was on the council, but he is known to have given discriminatory speeches,” Tripathi said.
While it is symbolic to change the names, Tripathi said there is more work for UB to do when it comes to fighting systematic racism.
“We have this President's Advisory Council on race and they're looking at how do we recruit students? How do we retain them?” Tripathi said. “They're looking at how we recruit faculty and staff, how they retain them, and what kind of curriculum and teaching changes we need to make. So it's a really inclusive place.”
Community engagement is also a priority for Tripathi.
“We have been working with the community on the health issues. Especially in the African American community,” he said. “What I've been trying to do is really connect with the community, whether it's an economic connection, whether it's really connecting to the people who live here, how do we improve the quality of life-- that has been one of the missions.”
The changes effective immediately are as follows:
Putnam Way, a road on North Campus, will be renamed Mary Talbert Way in honor of the Buffalo civil rights pioneer.
Millard Fillmore Academic Center, which houses academic departments, student residences and other services, and is part of the Ellicott Complex, will be known as Academic Center until a new name is determined.
The former Putnam’s Marketplace Eatery in the Student Union will be known as Union Marketplace & Eatery.
Porter Quadrangle, a residence hall that is part of the Ellicott Complex, will be renamed at a later date.