Going Somewhere?

Sons of Confederate Veterans want Davis to stay where he is

Photo by Jana Birchum

"After reviewing that report and hearing from many members of the university community, including our alumni and the public, I have decided that the best location for the Jefferson Davis statue is UT's Briscoe Center for American History," wrote UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves in his Aug. 13 announcement regarding the Confederate monuments on UT's South Mall.

In addition to the Davis statue's relocation, a statue of President Woodrow Wilson will be moved "to an appropriate exterior location on campus" (yet to be decided) in order "to preserve the symmetry of the Main Mall." While not as controversial a figure as Davis, Wilson was a vehement racist, who re-segregated the military and federal government, sympathized with the KKK, and argued that "segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded." (See "Written in Stone," May 29.)

After Wilson and Davis are removed, Fenves does "not foresee replacing these with other statues." However, "the other four figures of the Littlefield Memorial and a nearby inscription will remain in place." Fenves "will consider placing a plaque near the Littlefield Fountain to provide context for the statues and inscription."

Unlike Davis, who "had few ties to Texas," Fenves notes, "James Stephen Hogg, Albert Sidney Johnston, and John Reagan had deep ties to Texas. Robert E. Lee's complicated legacy to Texas and the nation should not be reduced to his role in the Civil War."

Hogg, the son of a Confederate brigadier general but not a Confederate himself, served as Texas' attorney general and was Texas' first governor to actually be born in the state. Johnston was a general of the Confederate States Army, but had previously served with the Republic of Texas and the U.S. Army. Reagan, the Confederate postmaster general, represented Texas in the U.S. House both before and after the Civil War; he also founded the Texas State Historical Association. Lee fought Native Americans in Texas under Johnston; he was in Texas when the state seceded – his last command with the U.S. Army.

But Davis' journey to the Briscoe Center is already hitting roadblocks. Originally planned for Aug. 15, the relocation of the Davis and Wilson statues has been voluntarily delayed "in response to a request for a temporary restraining order that was filed in state district court Friday afternoon," according to UT spokesman Gary Susswein. The order, which was requested by Sons of Confederate Veterans, has not been granted by a judge.

The SCV's lawsuit argues that the "recently racially motivated shootings in South Carolina" have led to "an increased amount of orchestrated national hysteria" over Confederate monuments, that UT needs "approval from the Legislature, the Texas Histor­ical Commission, or the State Preservation Board" to relocate the statues, and that "the statues must remain in their current location based on Major Littlefield's will," or, at least, they "should remain on campus in view" until the Briscoe Center is ready to accept Davis' statue and a new location has been found for Wilson.

SCV spokesman Marshall Davis told the Chronicle that the SCV is "disappointed that President Fenves succumbed to political correctness." He said the statues symbolize re-unification between the North and the South following "the War Between the States," and were fine in their place, and that "moving the statues won't end racism." (Fenves addressed that last point in his original statement, writing: "Symbols are important, but we must also press ahead to create substantive change at the university.")

The SCV are not the only ones less than thrilled with Fenves' decision. UT student Alexandra Samuels told the Chronicle she thinks that "what Fenves is doing is a much better alternative to just leaving the statues in their place," but she would have preferred that all the Confederate statues be moved. Fellow student Mukund Rathi, who has argued in The Daily Texan that all the Confederate statues should be destroyed, told the Chronicle that Fenves' decision "didn't go far enough. His rhetoric carefully panders to the concerns of the Confederates and uses weak multicultural language to appeal to mainstream liberals."

However, Fenves' decision has also earned him a significant amount of praise. State Senators Rodney Ellis and Judith Zaffirini released a statement saying, "We are glad that Jefferson Davis no longer will be glorified on the Main Mall ... and we thank President Fenves for taking on this important task so soon during his tenure as president." Even Davis' great-great-grandson, Bertram Hayes-Davis of Gulfport, Miss., said that moving the statue and not discarding it would be "appropriate and reasonable," telling the States­man: "I don't want anybody to walk by a statue and feel it is demeaning or threatening in their life."

And student government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu are happy at the prospect of Davis' removal, which they'd called for as part of their campaign platform (see "UT's Student Government Winners Mix Substance With Satire," March 27). On Aug. 13, the duo posted the news on their campaign's Facebook page: "What started off as the one serious bit of our campaign is now reality. That's just crazy to think about. The chump will be bumped!" Rotnofsky told the Chronicle, "It's really exciting that what started as satire has led to actual change on campus."

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UT, Jefferson Davis, Gregory Fenves, Confederacy, racism, Sons of Confederate Veterans

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