The statue of the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Melville W. Fuller that sits in front of the Kennebec County courthouse will be returned to its donor for $1.
The decision comes as the country reckons with institutional racism and the verdict on the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whom jurors on Tuesday found guilty for the murder of George Floyd.
The Kennebec County Commission reached an agreement Tuesday with Robert Fuller Jr. to remove the statue of the former justice who voted to uphold the “separate but equal” decision in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case, the Kennebec Journal reported.
Fuller had commissioned the statue in 2013 to mark the 125th anniversary of Melville W. Fuller’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
Fuller’s attorney, Stephen Smith, said Tuesday that his client would take back the statue, as well as pay the costs of its removal. The statue will be removed from the county courthouse lawn within the next year.
But Smith asked the commission if the statue could remain in place until an alternate location is found. No organization has offered to relocate the statue, the newspaper reported.
Bernard Fishman, the director of the Maine State Museum, said that housing the statue at the museum is cost prohibitive. The museum is under renovation, meaning state officials would have to find storage space among the museum’s collections to store the statue.
State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross said during the meeting that there had not been any discussion about the state taking possession of the statue.
In February, Commissioner Chair Patsy G. Crockett said that the removal of the statue was an important step in denouncing racism in Maine.
“We must have courage to act affirmatively. We must become anti-racist. It’s not good enough to just say that we’re against racism,” Crockett said.
Melville W. Fuller was born in Augusta and served as a chief justice from 1888 until his death in 1910. He has been scrutinized for joining the majority in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, voting in favor of Justice Henry Billings’ decision that held “separate but equal” facilities and services didn’t violate the 13th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that struck down racial segregation in public schools.
The committee will meet again next Thursday to discuss potential locations for the statue.