The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


Letter To The Editor: Platteville should not glorify an enslaver.

image courtesy of C.D. Smith

The opinions expressed in this Letter to the Editor do not necessarily reflect the views of the executive board or the Exponent.

Dear Editor,

The Rountree name is plastered across the city of Platteville. A walk around town could take you to the Rountree branch of the Platte River, up Rountree Ave. Then after seeing a painting of Rountree and others, then you might take a break to see art in the Rountree Gallery. After visiting your friend at Rountree Apartments, you walk to your dorm at Rountree Commons.

John Rountree is a criminal and an enslaver. Rountree purchased three people illegally and brought them to Platteville. The first territorial governor, Henry Doge, also had slaves. He had promised freedom to his slaves but took twelve years to free them. He did not free his slaves until two years into governance. Why are we putting so much glory into the names of conniving men? If these men truly are criminals, why do we name everything after them?

It was long ago, why does it matter? He is dead. The issue, however, remains in the legacy he leaves behind, and the story we tell about him. Rountree is held at high esteem for some. We continue to rationalize and excuse these men, while they knowingly broke territorial law to purchase people.

It is a complicated issue. Renaming city buildings is not something able to be done in a night, and there is little the students and staff at the UW-Platteville can do besides voice their opinions. Voicing a want for change, however, is the start for change.

Black Student Union president Sydney Byas and former member Kam Gray provided their opinions about Rountree hall being associated with the university.

Gray states, “it is folks higher up who stopped it from happening, because they are the ones with the power anyway. We can scream and yell and shout as much as we want but like, if it’s falling on deaf ears then nothing’s going to change so I really think it’s just falling on deaf ears because they don’t feel like a change needs to be made, and they’re the ones in the position to change it, and they don’t want to do it so they aren’t going to do it. Unfortunately, that is just the way it works. I understand John Rountree’s contribution, that he did help found Platteville, but I think for naming buildings, maybe not a slave owner.”

“The overall climate of DEI in the system is a problem right now as so, it is just like this is one more little thing that is happening. I feel like it would be a simple fix, honestly, I do not know why they named it after him in the first place. It is not like renaming an academic building or something with a bigger impact on campus. In our eyes it’s simple but I know that it’s a complex thing for other people to understand … for me, it’s making sure that all students feel comfortable because right now I feel that there’s a lot going on obviously, like the DEI stuff, the school being in debt, transitioning with the layoffs that just happened, there’s a lot of big problems that are happening. Even if this is something that could not be fixed right away, we want to see at least a little bit of acknowledgement of ‘okay, we see there’s an issue’ and kind of start that conversation at least. We need something good to associate with that building in my eyes,” Byas said.

History professor Dr. Eugene Tesdahl opted to speak about the matter, being a supporter of Black and Indigenous history in the area. He explains, “In August 2012 Rountree Commons opened as a residence hall in Platteville, Wisconsin, as a partnership between UW-Platteville Real Estate Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Platteville Residence Life. The structure is named for John Rountree who founded Platteville in 1827. Rountree also illegally enslaved three African American people in Platteville in the 1830s. Rountree illegally purchased Maria, 19 and her son Felix,18-months, in Galena, IL, for $330 … It is shocking that these partners chose to name a building at UW-Platteville in 2012 for a person who broke territorial, state, and national laws and who knowingly enslaved people in free territory. Recent national trends show that careful research must be done prior to naming anything after anyone. Many universities have recently changed the names of buildings named for enslavers. If such a change happens at UW-Platteville it must come through community dialogue including multiple perspectives. More important than whether or not the name changes are that multicultural students, staff, and faculty feel supported and welcomed at UW-Platteville.”

Ethnic Studies professor Dr. Frank King is of the opinion that we do not need to be naming buildings after people at all. “The buildings become part of a rich person’s legacy; that is a part of it. It is human ego that we need to have a building named after a person. What does it matter? It is a building. It winds up becoming celebratory without a full understanding of who that person is. Take the human aspect out of inanimate objects that are they to serve us by keeping us sheltered and letting us do our work in them,” King said.

King continues, “this is an example of something much broader across the nation regarding civil war monuments, regarding people like Christopher Columbus and whether they should be celebrated, or even whether monuments or anything in his name or anything like that. So, there is a national connection that we can see of the resistance of how history is written and who becomes the benefactors of these historical narratives where it is glorifying one individual or individuals that wind up being essentially oppressors to other communities. So, the argument against Rountree and whether buildings should be named after him, I think one of the big problems is how to get people to understand that marginalized communities feel about someone being celebrated who was a slave owner in a time when slavery was not allowed in the state.”

“He can be recognized, but he does not necessarily need to be memorialized or even looked at as some larger-than-life person. He was a person, he contributed, but also we need to talk about the negatives about what he did and possibly some of the atrocities that he was a part of. If you are going to talk about these individuals, do not glorify them. I think that one of the big problems is that we glorify these individuals and we kind of give them a flawless narrative, but now as people are starting to realize and having a bigger understanding of how systems of oppression work, people are like, ‘Wait a second. This guy was not wonderful or great, he broke the law in owning human beings,’” King states.

“I do not think we need to have anybody memorialized in statues or monuments. We end up focusing on the individual and not the movement, so I think that even in a museum, we can have something about this person, but why do we need to have monuments of people anywhere? There is an intentionality of giving people this glorified history or idea. We look at confederate monuments across the country, they were built as a form of resistance to integration. They were done as an intimidation factor to people who wanted to fight for their rights to eradicate segregation. Also, they wanted to create a narrative that was false, and it became a rewritten type of history. We put people in monuments then we tend to move around and sugarcoat everything, all the atrocities that they have done,” King said.

This would be something that the community should discuss, it just needs to be going to be broader conversations about this. In my perspective, I do not think we should be celebrating or creating a name in a person’s honor. People are flawed. I think that when we name buildings after people, years from now we might find out that they’ve been doing something wrong. It is just a building, so why do we have to name it after a person? Why do we need to name it after individuals just to boost our ego as people?” King finished.

There is no justification in enslaving people. John Rountree viewed Black people as subhuman when he purchased a young woman and her infant son for his wife. That is not something justifiable.

When he purchased Rachel, another woman, she worked for them, even after freedom, until her death. For her service, Rachel was buried in the family plot, facing the opposite direction of the rest of the family, marked only with a cheap slab of stone engraved with the letter “R.” Where is her legacy?

We go beyond the simple act of remembering our history within Platteville. John Rountree is glorified, given the opportunity for his legacy to live on, retaught with each swarm of first-year students entering the campus grounds. Rachel was not given this opportunity.

Why do we continue to glorify the enslaver and ignore his slaves? The power of memory is extremely important, and we do a disservice to the marginalized community by glorifying an enslaver.

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