The iconic statue of Brigham Young on campus at the Provo university named for him was doused in red paint earlier this week and the word “racist” was sprayed onto the base.
The vandalism occurred sometime late Sunday night or early Monday morning, said Brigham Young University police Lt. Rich Christianson. And it included someone also marking an “X” over the sign of the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building; the statue sits at its entrance.
“It looks like they had a whole gallon of red latex paint,” Christianson said.
The markings on campus come as many nationwide have protested for weeks against racism and discrimination of Black people, particularly by law enforcement. And it has fueled a new reckoning over monuments and statues that celebrate the Confederacy and slaveholders and have become symbols of oppression.
In Oregon, demonstrators toppled a statue of Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father who enslaved more than 600 people. In Virginia, they threw a statue of Italian colonizer Christopher Columbus into a lake.
The BYU statue of Young — who espoused racist teachings — was coated in paint. It was still wet when officers arrived, according to the police report obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune in a public records request.
The statue was quickly cleaned off the morning it was discovered, Christianson said, though the report notes the paint on the building sign, made of stone, had to be sanded off. He estimates it caused about $1,000 in damage.
From surveillance footage captured nearby, it appears to have been done by two individuals. Police can’t see their faces, though, because the cameras were too far away.
As the nation reckons with the past, some in Utah have specifically turned toward the majority religion here, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU.
Both the faith and Young practiced segregation and preached the superiority of whites as a mandate from God. Some members held slaves, too, when Young directed Latter-day Saints to resettle in Utah — what was then Mexican territory. He supported it.
In a speech in 1852, Young said: “In as much as we believe in the Bible ... we must believe in slavery. This colored race have been subjected to severe curses ... which they have brought upon themselves.”
That idea of being “cursed” has since been abandoned by the faith. But the church also previously withheld leadership positions from Black members. And it stressed a doctrine of “white and delightsome” up until a few decades ago, with the phrase appearing in the faith’s Book of Mormon.
This week, individual members apologized for that racist past — which the faith has not formally done, though it has partnered with the NAACP — and students at BYU called for a race and ethnicity class to be required to graduate to improve things moving forward and to hopefully stop racist behavior on campus.
Some are calling for more changes at the school, in particular, around Young’s name and others for whom buildings are named. One petition called out Abraham Smoot — the sign for the building named for him was marked at the same time Young’s statue was — who was a slaveholder. The school has now formed a committee to look at inequality.