AUSTIN (KXAN) — The governor of South Carolina and other state leaders made history Monday, calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the state Capitol grounds. The move comes after nine people were killed at a historic African-American church Wednesday. Police say a white supremacist, motivated by hate, committed the killings.
“For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds, or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “But this is a moment in which we can say that flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”
In light of what happened in South Carolina, there is a renewed push to take down one of six statues of famous men on the University of Texas campus. In just one day, 1,500 people signed a petition to new UT President Greg Fenves urging him to take down the statue of Jefferson Davis.
The Littlefield Fountain on the South Mall is named after George Littlefield, who donated thousands of dollars to the university. He was a rancher, a regent at the university and a Confederate officer. Four other statues, including ones of Robert E. Lee and Albert Sydney Johnston, also have ties to the Confederacy. But all the focus now is on Davis, president of the seceding states.
“We feel like starting from the top is the way to go, and Jefferson Davis was president of the confederacy,” said Joe Deshotel, part of the Travis County Democrats and prominent organizer of the petition.
He said the statues should go and adds Davis belongs in history books and museums, not atop a pedestal on the way to the UT Tower.
“U.S. soldiers helped Iraqis take down the statue of Sadam Hussein,” said Deshotel. “Nobody thought for a second that his regime would be forgotten — and the scars that he put on that country would be forgotten — but it was important symbolism for liberation.”
“He has a much, much, deeper history,” replied Marshall Davis, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
He said the Davis statue should stand as a way to honor his role as both a United States senator and Secretary of War.
“I think it is important that we look at the entire contributions of these men, who we’ve named counties and schools after, and whose statues are everywhere in Texas and in the South,” Davis added.
Fenves met with Student Government leaders Monday to talk about taking down the Davis statue.
“President Fenves had a very productive meeting and good conversation about the Jefferson Davis statue with Student Government leaders,” a university spokesperson said. “The student and university leaders will work collaboratively to continue gathering all of the information and perspectives needed to make a decision about the statue.”
“Once we start to remove these symbols, then we remove the cover for those who hide behind those values,” said Deshotel.
“I think there is a motive, the idea, that we take down everything Confederate, then, ‘Oh it never happened.’ I don’t think that’s fair to the men who fought and died to protect their homeland from an invading army,” said Davis.
Many parts of the South still associate in some way with the Confederacy. More than two dozen Texas counties are named after prominent figures from the Confederacy, mostly in West Texas. Lee County, in Central Texas, was named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Many schools and streets have also been named after Confederate leaders, such as Lee and Davis. However, other controversies have led to name changes in the past right here in Austin. In 2010, the University of Texas changed the name of the dorm Simkins Hall to Creekside. William Stuart Simkins served in the Confederate Army and later became a leader in the Ku Klux Klan.
Ten years prior, Gov. George W. Bush began the push to bring down a plaque that had the Confederate flag and part of a quote the NAACP said should be removed. In 2013, the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a court motion to bring the original plaque back, saying the state illegally took down the original one.