The University of Texas removed four Confederate statues from its Austin campus early Monday morning, amid growing pressure to take down such monuments in the wake of racist violence in Charlottesville.
University president Gregory L. Fenves announced the decision late Sunday night, saying the “horrific displays of hatred” in Virginia had made it clear that Confederate statues had become “symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” Demonstrations by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 turned deadly after a neo-Nazi plowed a car into a crowd, killing one counterprotester and injuring at least 19 other people.
Fenves said he had considered the historical and cultural significance of four Confederate statues on campus — depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and former Texas governor James Stephen Hogg — but concluded they were “severely compromised by what they symbolize.”
“Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans,” Fenves said in a statement. “That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry.”
And so, under heavy security and surrounded by a few dozen supporters and protesters, crews began taking down the statues from the Main Mall of the campus after midnight Sunday, the Associated Press reported. Tensions were high, and police diffused at least one argument.
“I hate the erasure of history and my people’s history … people of European descent who built this country,” Mark Peterson, 22, who identified himself as a University of Houston student, told the Associated Press. “It burns me to my core.”
Mike Lowe, 37, who has advocated for Confederate statues in San Antonio to be taken down, disagreed.
“They have no other reasons than ‘you are erasing our history.’ Their reasoning is flawed,” Lowe said, according to the Associated Press. “These monuments represent white supremacy, and black lives haven’t mattered in this county the same as a white man’s matters.”
The statues of Lee, Johnston and Reagan will be reinstalled at UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, while the one of Hogg may be relocated to another campus site, Fenves said. Classes for the fall semester begin Aug. 30.
In 2015, the university also took down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and moved it to the Briscoe Center, two months after the fatal shooting of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. As The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson reported then, the statue had already been controversial, but the Charleston massacre provided a breaking point that led to its removal.
After the Charleston shooting, Fenves formed a task force to consider the fate of the campus’s Confederate statues. Fenves said Sunday he had consulted that same 2015 task force report when making a decision regarding the statues of Lee, Johnston, Reagan and Hogg.
“The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history. But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres,” Fenves said, using a nickname for the Austin campus. “We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus.”
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