University of Texas removes Confederate statues from campus

The University of Texas removes Confederate statues from campus in the overnight hours of Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. (KEYE/Leslie Allrich)

AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE) - Citing the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Texas removed the remaining Confederate statues from the main mall on campus.

Work began late Sunday night to take down the Confederate monuments depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan. The school also removed the statue of former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg, though he was not a member of the Confederacy.

"These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism," UT President Gregory Fenves said in a statement Sunday night. "The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus — and the connections that individuals have with them — are severely compromised by what they symbolize."

Fenves said he spoke with current students, alumni, and reviewed a 2015 task force report before coming to the conclusion that the statues should be removed.

Fenves said Lee, Johnston and Reagan's statues will be added to the collection of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

Don Carleton, executive director at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History says the statues will now be studied instead of honored. “They will be available for research and teaching purposes. They will not go on display in this building, however, because we simply do not have the space to do that,” Carleton says.

One statue that is on display there is Jefferson Davis. Davis was removed from the main mall in 2015 following the racially motivated shooting of black church goers in South Carolina. The statue is now on display alongside a contextual marker.

“Moving the statues doesn't change history. In fact, moving them to a place where they can be looked at and studied and put into historical context really serves history much better than just sticking them out into a public place without any context or explanation,” says Carleton.

In 2015 UT Austin President Greg Fenves said removing the Davis statue but keeping the others was, in part, “both respectful of the heritage that is important to many and serves as a poignant display of our nation's and university's history." However now Fenves says all of the confederate statues must come down because they, “represent the subjugation of African Americans. That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry."

The Texas Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling in the court case brought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans challenging the Davis statue removal. When Davis was removed, so was Woodrow Wilson so the mall would remain symmetrical.

UT says the statue of Hogg will be considered for another location on campus.

Monday morning Kirk Lyons, attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans said by removing the statues UT had "spit on the Littlefield legacy. He went on to say, "Those statues don't belong to Greg Fenves. They belong to the people of Texas."

Lyons said he hadn't spoken to his clients, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, about their next steps yet, but he did add, "As long as there is breath in our body we will fight that type of tyrannical, over.... out of control university state government. We will fight them, fight them, fight them. It ain't over."

Monday night, a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Texas said they were "outraged" and "astonished" by the statues removal. Marshall Davis said it was wrong for the statues to be removed "in the literal dark of night" without any committee hearings or conversations about where they would go.

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