Private donors and the university committed more than $350,000 to the statue effort.
Decades In The Making
The effort to recognize Gaines’ contributions to the formation of Texas A&M has a long history. A Matthew Gaines Committee was formed in the 1990s with the support of the Aggie Republicans, the university’s Black Former Student Association, the Aggie Democrats, The Battalion, a number of other student groups, and numerous faculty members. The movement lost steam, however, in the wake of the Bonfire tragedy, a change in administrative leadership and an unforeseen budget crisis.
Additional efforts were undertaken in the early 2000s, again to no avail, but renewed momentum to acknowledge Gaines on campus began to build again in the past five years.
During the fall 2017 student legislative cycle, the Texas A&M University Student Government Association, the Graduate and Professional Student Council, and the Residential Housing Association each passed legislation in support of commemorating Gaines. Previous attempts to construct such a statue did not move past the student legislative process.
With strong support from former Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel Pugh and other Texas A&M faculty and staff, several students worked to raise a $35,000 commitment from the Texas A&M Black Former Student Association along with other gifts. Texas A&M also agreed to a financial commitment, which allowed the group to commission an artist.
Matthew Etchells, who served as the 2017-2018 Graduate and Professional Student Council president and was part of the Matthew Gaines Initiative during that time, said the placement of the Gaines statue helps tell the university’s origin story.
“As you walk from the Memorial Student Center and up the Military Walk to the Academic Building and then curve back around, it should be the narrative of Texas A&M,” Etchells said. “As you walk out of the MSC, you should see Matthew Gaines and that’s the first thing you read about. You can see a linear journey. Then as you walk around, you can read about Old Main and the Academic Building. You get a better understanding of our core values and our traditions and all these pieces start to line up. Without the inclusion of Matthew Gaines, it’s like starting a story but you’ve torn out the page that says, ‘Once upon a time.’”