AUSTIN (KXAN) — The three Confederate statues that were standing at the University of Texas at Austin’s South Mall were removed overnight Sunday and will no longer be on public display. The statues of John H. Reagan (Confederate Postmaster General), Albert S. Johnston (a Confederate general), and Robert E. Lee (commander of the Confederate army) will become part of the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.Only the Jefferson Davis statue, which was removed from campus grounds two years ago, will be part of the “Exploring the American South” exhibit.
Executive director of the Briscoe Center, Dr. Don Carleton, says there is no room in the exhibit hall to add the other three statues. Carleton believes the statues are in their rightful place as part of a historical collection, not about the Civil War, but how ex-Confederates retook control and tried to frame a positive narrative in the 20th century.
In his view, having them high on a pedestal on UT’s Main Mall told students to think of them as heroes, as people to be honored and remembered.
“What they exist for is for people to come and study them and come to their own conclusions,” said Carleton.
Carleton told KXAN while he had talked to university leadership about the issue in the past, he didn’t find out about the statues being removed until the night they came down.
“There are hardly any facts that come out of a statue. In fact, most statues are pretty silent. You have to read into them. But they’re symbols. Anybody who wants to know anything about the history of the Civil War needs to go look at books that are available,” said Carleton.
A spokesperson for the Texas Chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans says UT President Greg Fenves’ abrupt removal of the statues is upsetting since there is still a lawsuit in progress regarding the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue a few years ago.
“Astonished and outraged that President Fenves would choose to do this without following any proper channels or having any hearings,” said Davis.
While the Texas Chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans lost in court, they appealed and Davis says the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to take the case. A court date is still pending.
The group is also trying to get lawmakers to make what the university did illegal in the next legislative session.
Students across campus Monday told KXAN they are proud to be Longhorns.
“Imagine being an African American student walking past that and knowing that the statue is someone who would rather die than see you walk this campus,” said incoming UT freshman, Brooke Lamantia, one of 900 students who submitted the opinion survey to determine what should be done with the statues on the South Mall. “I believe they’re better in a museum where we can learn about the history of them.”
Student body leadership met with the university president last week. On Saturday, the student survey was launched, and by Sunday night, action was taken.
“This is what UT is all about — movements like this,” added Lamantia. “That was one of the cool things. I just didn’t think it would be responded to so fast. That was really cool to see and to know that I’m coming to a campus that’s so quick to listen to students’ responses.”
Although it’s unclear what could come of the empty pedestals the statues have left behind, one thing is certain: UT students will have a voice in the matter.
“It was about time. So many students have advocated for this before our team,” explained Alejandrina Guzman, the university student body president. “Thinking about the advocates, thinking about the student leaders who have pushed for this for years. I’m glad. This is a very big step toward the right direction.”
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, who represents a large Longhorn population in the Texas State House of Representatives, says she’s convinced the community will take part in this process.
“Those statues were placed there, not with input from students so much. Those statues were placed there really at the behest of a benefactor — a board of regent — in the 30s. So, obviously, today we wouldn’t just put any statue there that was the desire of some benefactor without some process through which there was community input to make sure that whatever we honor in a statue is something that is appropriate to honor,” said Rep. Hinojosa. “It’s not of primary importance that we replace those statues. I don’t know why those statues couldn’t be replaced with landscaping.”
It remains to be seen what the UT leadership and community has planned for those spaces.