University of Texas at Austin Removes its Confederate Statues Overnight

by Kelly Macias –

If America is the land of opportunity, then it could surely be said that it’s a country filled with people who are opportunists. While opportunists are generally known for taking advantage of a situation to gain some benefit without regard to ethics or morals, every once in a while even the most calculating ones can do the right thing. Politicians, who are the most notorious opportunists out there, have used the violence in Charlottesville to seize the moment when it comes to removing Confederate monuments. Last week, Baltimore removed its monuments in the middle of the night and other cities are planning to follow suit. And the University of Texas at Austin also joined the club, removing several of its Confederate statues from campus on Sunday night.

Workers began removing the statues of Robert. E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan from the university’s main plaza late Sunday night. The news was delivered to the campus community via an email from UT-Austin President Greg Fenves just before 11 p.m., who said the monuments depicted parts of U.S. history that “run counter to the university’s core values.” Another statue, one of former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg, was also taken down.

This is great news, especially coming from the Lone Star State. While state Republicans spend their time doing everything they can to block women’s access to abortion and reproductive health care, this proves that progressive ideas can move forward at local levels. It is also a pretty big deal that this is occurring in a state which has a notorious passion for defending the Confederacy.

“We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus,” Fenves wrote, adding that recent unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, “make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” 

Indeed, these monuments are about white supremacy.

If you examine the history behind them, it’s hard to ignore that they began popping up in the Reconstruction era as a response to black political and social participation post-slavery. They were not as much about honoring the losers of the Civil War as much as they were about terrorizing blacks and reminding them of a time that they were in bondage. It’s important to acknowledge and have conversations about that history—both the enslavement of black people and the acts of intimidation to keep them in their place. But these monuments belong in museums or other sites where they can be placed in context.

A UT-Austin spokesperson told The Texas Tribune that the university decided to take down the statues in the middle of the night “for public safety and to minimize disruption to the community.” Per Fenves’ email, the three Confederate statues are headed to the Briscoe Center for American History, while the statue of Hogg “will be considered for re-installation at another campus site.”

The most important thing to remember in this discussion is that this is about dismantling white supremacy. The very heritage and history people want to preserve that is represented by these monuments is a form of white supremacy. The rally in Charlottesville and the violence that ensued were very clear examples of it. But the ideas the Nazis and KKK represent are more widespread than we want to admit. We cannot lose sight of how ingrained white supremacy is in our culture—both overtly and covertly. These monuments represent more covert examples. Mass incarceration, mass deportation, income inequality, and disparities in access to quality education are all covert examples of white supremacy. If we are going to move toward racial justice as a country, we need to put energy into dismantling all systems and structures that uphold white supremacy—and not just the most obvious ones.

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos