The Black Student Union and the Student Inclusion Coalition, both student organizations, called for the statue's removal in early June, despite Lincoln ending slavery in the United States.
The Black Student Union argues Lincoln's legacy also includes several actions that harmed people of color. He ordered the largest mass execution in U.S. history -- 38 Dakota men by hanging -- and signed the Homestead Act, which gave settlers land forcibly taken from Native Americans, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
“For him to be at the top of Bascom [Hill] as a powerful placement on our campus, it’s a single-handed symbol of white supremacy,” Black Student Union president Nalah McWhorter told the outlet.
Opponents, including UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, have voiced concerns about how far the targeting of historical figures can go. In a statement to the newspaper, she acknowledged Lincoln's complex legacy.
“However, when the totality of his tenure is considered, Lincoln is widely acknowledged as one of our greatest presidents, having issued the Emancipation Proclamation, persuaded Congress to adopt the 13th Amendment ending slavery and preserved the Union during the Civil War ... I believe that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy should not be erased but examined, that it should be both celebrated and critiqued," Blank said.
The backlash against statues and monuments of controversial figures has intensified in the weeks following the death of George Floyd amid a racial reckoning across the country.
Some statues have been toppled and others have been vandalized. President Trump has excoriated vandals and pressed for jail terms for anyone caught desecrating public memorials. Last week, he signed an executive order to protect such properties.
Another statue of Lincoln featuring him with a shackled, kneeling African-American in Washington D.C., has also drawn scorn from activists. Critics say the Emancipation Memorial communicates the black man's subservience.
Fox News' Jack Durschlag contributed to this report.