Two scholars from UT object to the Texas school's decision to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis

Historians in the News
tags: Confederate flag, Jefferson Davis



Al Martinich is a professor of philosophy and Tom Palaima is a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin.

The removal of Jefferson Davis’s statue from its prominent location on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin this week may appear to end the university’s difficult struggle to shake off its historical embrace of racist values and practices. It does not.

Removing the statue is a serious moral and ethical mistake. Remembering our lamentable behavior in the past is an important part of helping to ensure that a similar behavior does not recur, especially if that remembering does what colleges, particularly public colleges, were created to do: produce educated citizens who can make sound ethical decisions.

"Remember the reason the statue of Jefferson Davis was erected in the first place and what it symbolized for over eight decades" is not as pithy as "Remember the Alamo." But it is just as important. Remembering the long and inglorious success of racism in our institution and our society is as important as remembering a glorious defeat in battle.

The controversy about this and other Confederate statues on campus is nothing new. People of conscience who understood what they symbolized created enough of a stir that the university’s two immediate past presidents appointed committees to study what to do with the statues. The presidents decided to do nothing...

Recent troubling events in our country gave UT-Austin and its current president, Gregory L. Fenves, a third chance to do the right thing. He came up with a solution that is arguably worse than the original problem.

The statue controversy should not be viewed as a provincial squabble. It is an instance of the general failure of many public institutions of higher education to own up to their own histories. Remembering those histories offers moral and political lessons for our society as a whole.

For more than 80 years, Jefferson Davis and three other Confederate heroes were honored conspicuously on the campus’s main mall. Fenves justified removing the Davis statue alone among them because, he said, Davis has no connection with the university. But the presence of his statue is the connection.




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