University of Texas workers remove the Jefferson Davis statue
What should we do with Confederate monuments? Should they be destroyed? Should they remain standing? Should we supplement them with additional monuments or interpretive signs and plaques?
In 2015, the University of Texas at Austin moved a bronze statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from a public space on campus to an exhibit at the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cailin Crowe describes what happened next:
The Davis statue’s exhibit, “From Commemoration to Education,” was unveiled last year in tandem with renovations to the Briscoe Center’s first floor. The exhibit chronicles the statue’s life from its 1916 commissioning by George W. Littlefield, a Confederate veteran and the university’s largest original benefactor, to its removal, in 2015.
The Briscoe Center also features the statue’s campus life with an interactive display that includes digitized documents. So far, the exhibit has received largely positive feedback from students and professors because the statue was moved from a commemorative space to an educational one, Wright said.
Instead it has become a learning tool for academic conversations. “The object itself has sort of developed this second life, where it now acts as a teaching moment,” he said.
Read the entire piece here.
I would encourage the University of North Carolina to do the same with Silent Sam.
On Sunday the University of Texas at Austin removed a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate State of America, from its location in front of the school’s main tower. The statue will be moved to a history museum on campus.
Not everyone on the Austin campus is happy about the move. Yesterday two professors wrote a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education criticizing the removal of the Davis statue. Al Martinich teaches philosophy and Tom Palaima teaches classics.
They make a compelling case. Here is a taste:
Removing the statue is a serious moral and ethical mistake. Remembering our lamentable behavior in the past is an important part of helping to ensure that a similar behavior does not recur, especially if that remembering does what colleges, particularly public colleges, were created to do: produce educated citizens who can make sound ethical decisions.
“Remember the reason the statue of Jefferson Davis was erected in the first place and what it symbolized for over eight decades” is not as pithy as “Remember the Alamo.” But it is just as important. Remembering the long and inglorious success of racism in our institution and our society is as important as remembering a glorious defeat in battle…
UT-Austin should unequivocally acknowledge its history and assert its commitment to do better. We should have retained all the statues. As it is now, we should put plaques on the remaining statues and on Davis’s when it gets to its final, high-dollar place of honor. The plaques should have texts such as this: “The University of Texas at Austin regrets its long association with people who supported the system of segregation that denied equality to African-Americans and other oppressed minorities as if it were an acceptable part of civilized life.”
The university’s decision in the case of the Confederate statues runs counter to the core values it has long promoted. Carved in large letters prominently across the façade of the south entrance of the UT Tower are the liberating words of John 8:32: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The motto on the official seal of the university readsDisciplina Praesidium Civitatis: “A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” The recent decision is not faithful to those values, nor is it in keeping with our university motto: “What starts here changes the world.”
All human lives matter, including historical lives. For over a century, people of color in Texas were treated as unworthy of the full rights and privileges of American citizens. We should not segregate any part of our past in a moral skeleton closet. Keeping, contextualizing, and explaining the Confederate statues and their history would convert those artworks into tools of historical witness to wrongs done and too long tolerated. And they would serve as conspicuous examples of how to change moral direction within our society.
We in the Messiah College History Department would be happy to take 1/10th of such a gift. Interested alum can reach me through the blog. (Only half-kidding about this).
Here is a taste of an article in the Austin American-Statesman:
Gardner Marston earned his history degree at the University of Texas in 1953. His studies in Austin must have been deeply fulfilling, as evidenced by a $6.6 million bequest that the history department has received from his estate.
Marston, who died in 2011 at the age of 86, was a native and longtime resident of La Jolla, Calif. He traveled widely and had a lifelong curiosity about history, geography and current events — interests that no doubt were fueled by his time in Austin.
Gifts of this size to a single academic department are fairly unusual. And in this case, university officials were expecting a much smaller bequest. Marston told them in 1999 that he had included a $1 million donation in his will.
“It was a nice surprise,” Kathleen Aronson, assistant dean for development in the College of Liberal Arts, said Tuesday.
The money will be used to fund scholarship and travel for undergraduate and graduate students.