Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Confederate Past - Statues on University of Texas Campus

Jefferson Davis Monument at the
University of Texas at Austin 
The Sunday May 10, 2015 edition of The Dallas Morning News contained an editorial about the "statues of Confederate heroes scattered on the grounds of the University of Texas in Austin." The editorial asks the questions about "how we understand our history" and "how we let it inform our present lives."

This editorial strikes at the heart of questions about our perspectives of the past.

Students at the University of Texas in Austin have called for the removal of the statute of Jefferson Davis. They argue that the statue and others on the campus are not historical markers, but memorials to honor Confederate leaders and "by extension, the ideals they championed." The presence of these statues on an integrated campus may also indicate, again by extension, that the University and the State of Texas supports these 19th century ideals.

The University of Texas admitted its first black graduate students in July 1950. That August, because of University policies, a black student was denied housing. In September 1956 the  University allowed "all qualified applicants would be admitted on all levels without reference to race." The dormitories were still segregated.  On September 24 and 25, 1961, student advisers in white dormitories reportedly said that "if African American girls were invited to student rooms the doors must be closed and that the African American were not to use the restrooms or drinking fountains."  On June 1, 1964, the university president stated  that "with respect to student and faculty housing situated on premises owned or occupied by the University, neither the University of Texas nor any of its component institutions shall discriminate either in favor of or against any person on account of his or her race, creed, or color." (Source: The University of Texas website).

The editorial goes on to warn readers to "tread with caution" when we try to "whitewash history by removing or erasing historical and artistic markers." The Dallas Morning News suggests that plaques be placed at the Confederate sculptures to add historical content and meaning."

Confederate War Memorial
in Dallas, Texas
The News also mentions the number of Confederate statues in the city and public schools named after Civil War leaders.

This is a significant problem throughout the South. Civil War monuments can be found in every town and city throughout the old Confederacy. The same statues are in town squares in the North.  Monuments to American soldiers and sailors should be kept in place. No footnotes should be required.

Other monuments are of a different nature.  I would suggest the following criteria:

  1. Is the monument relevant to local history? Does the tribute have a connection to the organization and/or community?  In the case of the Davis statue, what is his connection to the University of Texas?
  2. Does it reflect the current sentiments of the community? Should a primarily minority school continue to carry the name of a Confederate general or leader? 
  3. Does the statue reflect the organization in the manner that it wants? Is the statue offensive to customers (students) that the organization is trying to attract?
  4. Has the statue become a part of student or community lore? Does the football team rub General Lee's nose for good luck before a game? Has the general's nickname became ingrained with the school's teams? 
I am opposed to having a marker that explains who the statue was and the historical content of why it is on campus.  It is too much like an asterisk on some sports record, i.e. The statue of Jefferson Davis was placed on this site in [year] by the [group] as a [reason for placement]. The University is keeping the statue on campus even though Davis was [list of negative issues that Davis was connected with]. Rather than provide the narrative, let students learn about the man, the Civil War, and slavery.  

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