On Sunday, the president of the University of Texas at Austin ordered the removal of four statues of figures with ties to the Confederacy from a main area of campus. President Fenves had already removed a statue of Jefferson Davis from a prominent campus location 2015. Hobart and William Smith Colleges President Gregory Vincent was at UT Austin in 2015 and remembers that the move to evaluate the statues on campus began with students.
“We had the incoming student body president and vice president make the taking down of the Jefferson Davis statue on the main mall of the University of Texas at Austin one of their campaign priorities. When they came into office, they met with President Fenves to ask him to make this one of his first efforts and he did that.”
At the time, UT Austin’s president was relatively new in the role. He asked Vincent to chair a task force of faculty, staff, students, and alums to examine the issue of all of the statues and to present President Fenves with a set of options. Vincent says that it was important to provide historical context for the statues, which were erected on campus in the 1930s. The Davis statue eventually moved to a museum on campus.
In a letter to the UT community, President Fenves cited the events in Charlottesville as a motivating factor in revisiting the 2015 report, which was also driven in part by an act of violence.
“One of the really catalytic events of 2015 was unfortunately that summer, that horrible act of domestic terrorism where that shooter killed those innocent people in Emmanuel AME Church as a result of his racial hatred. That was really an effort where you saw not only in Texas, but in other places even in South Carolina where these statues began to come down. We know in Charlottesville that was another precipitating event that really helped cities and other places think through what should we do with these statues and what are we doing when we honor that.”
UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, which currently houses the Jefferson Davis statue in a scholarly exhibition, is the destination for three of the statues that were removed on Sunday. The fourth, of Texas Governor James Hogg, is being considered for a different location on campus.