University of Texas at Austin Ponders Removal of Statues

Statue of Jefferson Davis at UT Austin

Statue of Jefferson Davis at UT Austin

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.

About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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22 Responses to University of Texas at Austin Ponders Removal of Statues

  1. Amanda Warren says:

    I think that this illogical attempt to erase history results from the primary focus of academic historians who scold and lecture not on what WAS, but how it OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN from our modern perspective. Thus, the study of history has become all about us, which is perhaps to be expected in this self-obsessed age, but it lends little toward truly understanding the era supposedly being studied. In the academic realm, anyone who delves into the Civil War without stridently condemning everything Southern, is by definition a rabid racist, neo-Confederate, etc. History for its own sake is no longer acceptable; one is forced to mouth the party line.

    The students who insist on eradicating Davis are simply falling in line with the tone and thrust of what they are being taught, and believe me they will not stop there: Lee and A. S. Johnston will be next. (Reagan might be spared, although he would seem oddly robbed of context all by himself!).

    How easy it is to condemn the sins of others and the past–how much more difficult to perceive one’s own wrongdoing and the collective evils of the present day! The students at U.T. lack the wisdom to understand that even if they succeed in sanitizing their campus of decades of Texas history, there will be no moral triumph–only a denial of truth.

    • Andy Hall says:

      I think that this illogical attempt to erase history. . . .

      I have no idea where the notion comes from that removing a statue or taking down a flag is “erasing history.” The history was there before the statue, and will still be there whether it’s removed or not.

      • The way I see it is that people have a reason for erecting a statue. That is a historic act in and of itself, much like placing a tombstone. Regardless of what the stone says, placing the stone has meaning. Taking down the statue of Davis does not erase Davis from history, as you say, but it does erase the act of those that erected the statue.

      • I have seen battlefields disappear, and as a result, people have literally forgotten about those battles (Salem Church is my favorite example). I think tangible reminders of past events–whether battlefields, statues, or other such things–allow us to remain better connected to those events. Certainly people ignore the world around them all the time, so physical reminders alone are not enough–but I have come to see them as a vital part of the remembering.

      • jexreally says:

        You really do understand, because you know that removing the monument erases a safe space for Southerners and erases opportunities for ritualized admiration. You really do understand. Fess up.

      • Andy Hall says:

        “Opportunities for ritualized admiration?” That sounds like we’re getting into Golden Calf territory.

      • Eva Redd says:

        The statue is an important symbal to the Texans that were born and raised here! If UT decides to remove the statue, I am afraid they will lose many, many, Longhorns fans! We have an entire room in our home dedicated to ” the longhorns!! Every thing in that room is “LONGHORNS” from flags to bedding and curtains!! HOOKEM-HORNS!!

      • Andy Hall says:

        The statue is an important symbal to the Texans that were born and raised here! If UT decides to remove the statue, I am afraid they will lose many, many, Longhorns fans!

        We’ll see. I’m one born-and-raised Texan, with plenty of family that attended UT Austin, who never knew the statue was there until it recently became a controversy. So you can mark me as dubious as to how central it is to Longhorn identity.

    • Will Hickox says:

      “I think that this illogical attempt to erase history results from the primary focus of academic historians who scold and lecture not on what WAS, but how it OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN from our modern perspective.” The blog post clearly indicates that the students are concerned both with the actual history of the CSA and its relevance for UT-Austin today. As the student body VP states: “[Davis] fought vociferously for maintaining the system of slavery, and we don’t think that [the statue] should be part of the campus climate.” Which part of that denies history?

      “In the academic realm, anyone who delves into the Civil War without stridently condemning everything Southern, is by definition a rabid racist, neo-Confederate, etc. History for its own sake is no longer acceptable; one is forced to mouth the party line.” In my experience, folks who make these sorts of emotional and unsubstantiated claims actually have little or no firsthand knowledge of academic history and haven’t done much reading in the vibrant field of Civil War Southern history.

      “The students who insist on eradicating Davis are simply falling in line with the tone and thrust of what they are being taught …” Are you familiar with the curriculum of history classes at UT-Austin? If not, how can you claim knowledge of what students are being taught?

      I can sympathize with concerns over removing a statue because the statue itself is a historical artifact of a certain era, but when folks insist on painting any and all acknowledgment of the CSA’s commitment to slavery as an attack on the South (and, by extension, on them), they lose credibility.

      • Amanda Warren says:

        You make many incorrect assumptions about me personally, and in so doing completely misread my point. As I do not believe this is a forum for personal attack or defense, I will leave it at that.

      • jexreally says:

        Your comment makes Confederate monuments even more relevant today than when they were erected. We should be dedicating ourselves to putting monuments on campuses that have so far failed to do the right thing. There is no slavery in Selma, Ferguson, and Baltimore, but still….

  2. Lenny Pincus says:

    Nothing has been the subject of more sanitizing efforts than the role of slavery in the Civil War.

    • Will Hickox says:

      Spot on. Complaining that acknowledgment of Confederates’ commitment to slavery is “sanitizing history” is classic projection. These are often the same people who push an image of the Confederacy–in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary–as some kind of multicultural utopia.

  3. docwylie says:

    In the same vein as the removal of CSA battle flags crom the Lee Chapel. This will not end until all such statues and memorials are removed. Even the Museum of the Confederacy is being changed (sanitized?).

    • jexreally says:

      It won’t end then, either. We’ll be “removed,” because we miss the good old days when our monuments had not yet been removed.

  4. Robert E. Groeling says:

    I think it is interesting to hear that the University of Texas is thinking of removing Confederate statues. I didn’t realize that there were Confederate statues on the campus. I can see honoring Texas Confederates, but other state Confederate heroes is kind of “silly” to me.

  5. David Corbett says:

    Academic Taliban.

    • jexreally says:

      If diversity and relevance require we lose our monuments, then the time has come to reassess the relevance of diversity. We were better off before.

  6. jexreally says:

    Andy Hall says:
    May 16, 2015 at 12:21 PM
    “Opportunities for ritualized admiration?” That sounds like we’re getting into Golden Calf territory.

    Given the other options, that’s really where we should be. And thanks for admitting that gold is better than mud.

  7. Eva Redd says:

    When are people going to learn that you can not change history? History will not be removed! I am so tired of hearing about a war that happened over 200 years ago!!! This is causing racism to rise across this Great Nation! There is not 1 person that was subject to slavery that is still living! People need to go the library and study the Civil War!!! So many are making comments without the facts!! Black, white, brown, we are all free and have the right to our own opinions!! We all need to be focused on protecting our rights, which are being taken away!! Dear God, please bless this great “NATION” and forgive those that had you removed from all Government buildings, for your word is the foundation of our constitution!!! AMEN!

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