Reading the newspaper yesterday, I came across an article reprinted from the Dallas Morning News with the headline, “University grapples with statues of Confederate officials.” The story deals with the debate over the recent vote by the student government to demand that the statue of Jefferson Davis be removed. According to the vice president of the student body, “[Davis] fought vociferously for maintaining the system of slavery, and we don’t think that [the statue] should be part of the campus climate.”
The decision whether to remove the statue will now fall on the administration of UT Austin. I find it interesting that the campus also features statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, and CSA postmaster general John Reagan. Students are demanding only the removal of Jefferson Davis, even though all four men served the Confederacy.
I find the suggestion by the student government short-sighted. It is very important that we remember the Civil War for all the lessons that it offers. Removal of the statue would be to erase, at least physically on that campus, such a reminder. Moreover, to pin slavery on Davis alone is misguided. And while it is true that the Confederacy fought to maintain the institution of slavery, to blame Davis alone seems odd. It would be more consistent to ask for the removal of all statues representing CSA figures. To tear down Davis and leave Lee and company suggests to me that the mystique of the Lost Cause is at work in Texas.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think any of the Confederate statues ought to be removed. Davis should be remembered for all that he offered in his life. After all, we have not torn down the Jefferson Monument in Washington, DC, even though we now believe he fathered children with Sally Hemmings. Jefferson is remembered for all his contributions to America. Davis should be too. Even if you disagree with his stance during the Civil War, you have to admire his heroics in the Mexican War, service as one of the better Secretaries of War and in the United States Senate – among other things.
I would love to hear what everyone else thinks of the UT Austin controversy.