Buffalo and UB need to stop celebrating Millard Filmore, NOW!


Editors Note: This letter remains in the condition it was sent. 

On June 4, Martin Gugino was pushed to the ground by Buffalo police officers in front of the statue of Millard Fillmore that guards the entrance to City Hall. He sustained a serious head injury and became part of the national debate about police brutality.

What would Fillmore think of this? Sadly, he would probably applaud the police and chastise the protesters, just as President Trump did.

It is noteworthy that Fillmore is best known for signing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 into law, and ordering federal marshals to enforce it. Some see Fillmore’s slave patrols as a cornerstone of modern policing.

Filmore is known for other things, such as his leadership as the presidential candidate of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party.

Fillmore also spoke out against the Lincoln administration’s emancipation proclamation during the civil war and later backed Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan which led to the disenfranchisement of freed slaves and Jim Crow laws in the South.

It is time for UB and the City of Buffalo to stop equivocating about Millard Fillmore, take action, and take a stand against racism and xenophobia. 

The Buffalo Common Council and the Mayor need to join together and remove Fillmore’s statue from the steps of City Hall. It is the antithesis of a free society to have a monument to the enforcer of racist policies and xenophobic ideas loom over the steps of City Hall. This building needs to be welcoming to all, and Fillmore’s statue works against that goal.

UB’s leadership must remove Fillmore’s name from campus facilities, particularly those that are intended to serve students of color. It is an affront to name the hub of the Ellicott Complex after Fillmore. It is equally insulting for UB to expend time and resource on an annual basis to celebrate Fillmore’s birthday. UB goes as far as to send the UB Police Color Guard to the celebration. It is an audacious gesture for UB to order its police force’s honor guard to the gravesite of the father and enforcer of the Fugitive Slave Act. We can only hope that police officers do not return to campus emboldened by Fillmore’s ethos. 

Names and institutional actions have meaning. Continued reverence for Fillmore by the City of Buffalo, UB and other institutions in WNY is an effective high-five to the federal marshals who hunted down fugitive slaves, the police who assaulted Martin Gugino, and the perpetuation of racism and xenophobia. It is time for responsible leaders to proclaim that Fillmore’s legacy has inspired enough hate and relegate it to the dustbin of history. 

Robert Silverman, Professor

Department of Urban and Regional Planning