The University of Texas at Austin has removed the statues of four figures tied to the Confederacy, as the school’s president said they had become symbols of white supremacy.
University President Greg Fenves abruptly announced that the statues would be removed, saying such monuments have become “symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” Right after his announcement, crews worked through the night amid a heavy police presence.
The school blocked off the area, and some arguments occurred among those gathered. But all the statues of Lee, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan were successfully taken down.
By late morning, people walking by were stopping to gawk at the four pedestals, empty except for some construction debris and the bolts that once held the statues in place. Some snapped selfies, while a few climbed up the structures where the statues once stood.
But the scene remained peaceful and the area largely deserted. The university doesn’t begin classes until next week.
Fenves said the statues of would be moved to the Briscoe Center for American History on campus. The university in 2015 moved a statue of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis from its perch near the campus clock tower, the same area as the other statues, to the history museum.
As the statues were being taken down, less than 30 people, both supporters and opponents of Fenves’ order, congregated behind barricades near the statues. Among them was Mark Peterson, who identified himself as a University of Houston student. He was seething at the removal of the statues.
“I hate the erasure of history and my people’s history … people of European descent who built this country,” the 22-year-old said. “It burns me to my core.”
Mike Lowe, an activist for the removal of Confederate statues in San Antonio, was driving to Dallas when he heard the statues were coming down, turned around and drove to campus. Lowe, who is African-American, engaged in a brief but tense argument with a white male protester until police stepped in to separate them.
“They have no other reasons than ‘you are erasing our history.’ Their reasoning is flawed. These monuments represent white supremacy, and Black lives haven’t mattered in this county the same as a white man’s matters,” the 37-year-old Lowe said.
The debate over public memorials for Confederate figures roared into national conversation last week after a woman was killed and 19 were injured when a car drove into a crowd of people in a clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation. These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” Fenves said in a statement.
“The University of Texas at Austin is a public educational and research institution, first and foremost. 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.