One racist statue down...

September 8, 2015

Cindy Beringer describes how the president of the Confederate slave states finally got his comeuppance when his statue came down at the University of Texas.

ON AUGUST 30, at around 10:20 a.m., the statue of Jefferson Davis was lifted from its limestone pedestal and taken off the campus of the University of Texas (UT) in the back of a flatbed truck. Then, Facebook went wild, and the news spread throughout the nation.

Some 75 to 100 students, faculty members, university employees, media representatives and interested citizens watched and photographed for the entire two-and-a-half hours it took to wrap the statue in some kind of plastic preservative, saw through the bolts holding the statue to the pedestal and load it on the truck.

Very few people came late or left early. No one complained about the time it took for the process. It was truly an historic moment and one of undeclared solidarity--a moment in time marred only by the fact that there are five other racist statues on campus that need to go.

The statues were funded and ordered in the will of George Littlefield, the wealthy son of a Confederate family of slave owners. He was in love with the myth of the "lost cause," which is short for white supremacy.

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The Confederate statues on UT have been a source of embarrassment and agitation within the university and the community since even before they were installed in the early 1930s. This is because those carrying out Littlefield's orders failed to heed the warning of commissioned sculptor Pompeo Coppini: "As time goes by they will look to the Civil War as a blot on the pages of American history and the Littlefield Memorial will be resented as keeping up the hatred between the northern and southern states."

These fears, however, did not keep Coppini from making the statues and taking the money. He also made other statues honoring Confederates and "heroes" of the Alamo and Texas Rangers. Gorgeous statues--conflicting lousy politics.

The larger-than-life-size statue of Davis stood on a huge limestone podium on one side of the bottom of the stairs coming from the UT tower. In front of the buildings lining the two sides of the quadrangle leading down from the tower stand the statues of Confederates Robert E. Lee, Albert Johnson, John Reagan and James Hogg.

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Directly across from Davis stood the statue of Woodrow Wilson, which was also removed Sunday. Wilson, in addition to his contribution to the horrors of the imperialist First World War, was a confirmed racist who worked diligently to maintain segregation and white supremacy.

THE RECENT drive to move the statues gained momentum after the shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. There was a strong call for all Confederate statues to go. UT President Gregory Fenves had only been president since June, and the statue problem was dumped in his lap before he was able to fully understand the politics and pressure behind the statues.

Fenves convened two public meetings to which any one in the community could come and suggest whether the statues should be moved. It was clear from both meetings that the majority of students, faculty and community members wanted all the statues gone. Most compelling were the Black students and faculty for whom each statue represents a slap in the face, just by their presence on the campus.

At the second meeting, a large group known as the Sons of the Confederacy showed up and argued to keep all the statues with ridiculous arguments which only highlighted their belief in white supremacy. Additionally, more than 3,000 online comments were received regarding the fate of the statues.

The word from reliable sources indicated that Fenves was going to remove all the statues as the majority opinion at the public meetings and in the press had demanded. It was quite a shock when a couple of weeks after the meeting, he announced that only Davis and Wilson would be removed. His rationale for moving the statues had changed from "It is no longer in the university's best interest to continue commemorating him [Davis]," to the fact that Davis had no real ties to Texas, unlike the other Confederates. The statue of Wilson, whose KKK ties and other racist inclinations were brought out in the two public forums, was moved in the interest of "symmetry."

Fenves added that Robert E. Lee's "complicated legacy to Texas and the nation should not be reduced to his role in the Civil War." Perhaps Lee was kind to his mother.

A spokesman for Fenves added that the university would consider placing a plaque on the Main Mall to provide "historical context for the remaining statues." Another idea that should probably be scrapped.

The Littlefield Fountain is a bunch of horses all over each other as if in battle in some water at the bottom of the hill below the racist statues. Placing a plaque with an inscription "that pays tribute to the Confederacy and Southern patriotism" is also under consideration.

SOME TIME between the hearings and the announcement of his decision, someone clearly let Fenves in on who really runs UT.

Fenves was in between a rock and a hard place. He had to remove Davis in the spirit of the times, but the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy were cutting him no slack. "Brother Jeff" and "Brother Woodrow," as the Confeds call them, were going down. In fact, one of the two Sons in attendance was telling a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman that he hopes Fenves enjoys his "short stay" at UT.

Fenves made his decision and planned to get the statue down on a Saturday before the mass of students descended on the campus for the fall semester. At the 11th hour, the Sons of the Confederacy filed an injunction against the removal saying that Fenves did not have the authority to move the statues, and that the statues could be harmed in the process.

The livestream of the court hearing on August 27 was quite a spectacle of comic relief--like a Dukes of Hazzard rerun. It was standing room only in the courtroom filled mainly with the Sons, most of whom sported long white hair and flowing white beards--kind of a composite of General Cornpone, General Jawbone and Colonel Sanders. One Confederate son likened the proposed move of the statues to the Islamic State destroying artifacts in the Middle East.

Although the hearing took most of the afternoon, the judge clearly thought little of the group's shenanigans and ruled that the university did have the authority to move the statues. All the Sons vowed to continue fighting even after the statue was down.

So the statues were moved by a professional statue moving crew at great expense. The two will spend the next 18 months at a UT facility being refurbished "for indoor display" at great expense. Wilson will be moved to some other location on the campus where symmetry is not an issue, I suppose, and the Davis statue will go to the Briscoe Center for American History on the UT campus, which is being refurbished for the statue at great expense.

Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, explained the next step in true Orwellian terms: "The Briscoe Center's planned renovation includes dedicated exhibit space for the role of symbolism, statuary and public memory in American history. The Davis statue will be incorporated into this exhibit, where it will play a prominent role in educating students and visitors," perhaps by osmosis.

I KNEW I had to be there for the statue's takedown. I was also enraged that only Jefferson Davis was going, and I planned to agitate for a plan to remove the remaining racists.

Instead, like the others, I became caught up in the moment and was profoundly moved by the historic complexities of the day's event, a bucket list check-off. Like the slaves he owned, Davis had lost control of his own destiny, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was a great day for comeuppance.

My fear is that in the beauty of this partial victory, the other statues will be forgotten. After Davis rolled away and in press interviews, several spectators thanked Fenves for his vision and wise decision as if the job were completed. The students, university faculty and staff, and community members must continue the fight to remove the remaining bronze racists from the campus so that everyone can walk on campus in dignity and comfort.

The removal of the four Confederates and the racist Wilson will, of course, draw attention to the really large elephant on the quad. Centered across a pathway and centered between Davis and Wilson is an imposing statue of George Washington, the slave-owning founding father and the nation's first slave-owning president.

Those who have accepted the myths put out by the ruling class to keep us contentedly chained within a capitalist nightmare will find this remaining statue an insolvable conundrum.

Those who have rejected those myths will know just what to do.

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