A statute on the campus of the University of Texas that honors the former president of the confederacy is being targeted for removal. A campaign was launched this weekend in response to the tragedy in South Carolina.
The statue to Jefferson Davis is partially obscured by live oaks that provide shade to the university mall. But the trees cannot shield the monument to a man with little or no ties to the University of Texas from the controversy swirling around it.
"When I think of Jefferson Davis, I think of the confederate flag and everything that stands for, and that these days is nothing anything positive," said U.T. Senior Collins Estell.
A twitter campaign called, @NoDavisOnCampus, is underway to remove the statue. It quickly gained more than a thousand signatures on a change.org petition. It also prompted a response by new U.T. President Greg Fenves who posted he is taking the issue "very seriously and is working with students and campus leadership on it." But there are also doubts about what removing the statue will actually accomplish.
"I think moving or taking down as statute is a little superficial of a move towards improving race relations, or whatever the goal would be of moving the statute," said U.T. Senior Eric Spoor who suggested campus race relations seminars may be more helpful.
Putting the confederate statues in the shadow of the clock tower was not part of the original plan. Apparently that plan was all about sending a symbolic message, not to divide, but to unify. The statues were to be part of a massive 70' tall bronze archway located on the south end of campus.
Ben Wright with the Briscoe Center for American History, and I, reviewed documents about the proposed gateway. The memorial was commissioned by former U.T. Regent and confederate officer George Littlefield. The plan was to have the Davis statue placed opposite to one for President Woodrow Wilson. They'd be located in front of the arch with other notable historic figures. The goal - according to correspondences in the archives- was to represent the historic division of the nation by civil war and how world war one fused the country back together.
"I think the papers represent a great resource historians for students at the university to make their own minds up, about what the intent was what the outcome was, I think what they do show is that categorically is it is complicated."
The documents also detail how money problems and an effort to relocate u-t modified the plan. The statues were scattered and the archway morphed into the current fountain configuration.
Back in 2004 when this issue came up, Larry Faulkner, who was president of UT put together a study group. it was recommended to keep the statutes on campus but to reconfigure them back into the original plan it was also recommended that a sign be put up to explain the symbolism - which never happened.
Monday current university President, Greg Fenves, declined on cameras interviews but according to a spokesman, meetings have gotten underway to consider options.
University spokesperson Gary Susswein issued the following statement:
"President Fenves had a very productive meeting and good conversation about the Jefferson Davis statue with Student Government leaders this afternoon. 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."