UT takes down Confederate statues late Sunday night
By Lindsay Ellis, Houston Chronicle Updated 12:35 pm, Monday, August 21, 2017
Decades of tensions about the Confederate statues placed around the University of Texas at Austin's Main Mall culminated late Sunday in the quiet removal of life-size bronze figures of Confederate leaders.
The state flagship's president issued a harsh condemnation of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism in a letter to campus late Sunday that announced his decision.
Minutes later, a spokesman confirmed that crews were in the process of taking down statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg.
The statues of Lee, Johnston and Reagan will be placed in the Briscoe Center for American History, a campus research center with exhibits on the American South.
The representation of Hogg, the former Texas governor, may be re-installed elsewhere on campus, President Greg Fenves said.
"We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus," Fenves wrote. "As UT students return in the coming week, I look forward to welcoming them here for a new academic year with a recommitment to an open, positive and inclusive learning environment for all."
He said that deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month "made it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."
Major George W. Littlefield, a former UT regent and Confederate officer, said in his will he wanted life-size statues of Jefferson Davis, Lee, Reagan, Hogg and Johnston placed around campus, according to a university task force that evaluated whether the statues should remain on campus in 2015.
His request, at the turn of the 20th Century, came during a period of white Southern nostalgia for the Confederacy. This "neo-Confederate" or "Lost Cause" movement, during which numerous Confederate monuments were erected across the South, paralleled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and an upswing in discrimination and violence against people of color, the task force's report said.
That group was assembled shortly after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. UT-Austin later announced it would move a statue honoring Davis to a museum. At the time, Fenves said the other statues could stay because of the men's connections to Texas.
The statues have been subject to controversy since at least 1989.
New statues honoring Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez and Barbara Jordan have been erected on campus over that time as alumni, faculty, administrators and students considered whether the Confederate monuments should stand. Debate raged through editorials in UT-Austin's alumni magazine and campus newspaper after acts of vandalism and task forces.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized the university for removing the statues in the "middle of the night."
In a radio interview Monday morning, Patrick said while he does not tolerate bigotry and racism, tearing down statues sends "a poor message."
"I thought universities were where we were supposed to have robust discussions about our history," Patrick said. "Where does it stop?"
He also criticized the university for giving "no notice" on its plans to remove the statues, which UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said was to minimize disruption to the community and to ensure public safety.
UT-Austin's decision follows Duke University's removal of a statue of Lee from the entrance of its chapel last week. That statue will also be preserved, Duke President Vincent Price said in a statement.
UH and Rice University have no statues or monuments honoring Confederate leaders, spokesmen for the universities said.
Texas A&M University hosts a statue of Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross, a Confederate general, in its Academic Plaza. A campus building is named after Richard Coke, who fought for the Confederate Army.
A&M officials could not immediately say if there is a task force or group within the system or at the flagship considering the placement of these markers on campus.
Alejandra Matos contributed.
Lindsay Ellis writes about higher education for the Chronicle. You can follow her on Twitter and send her tips at [email protected]