Administrative officials of the University of Texas at Austin have removed three Confederate monuments from the campus, citing a deadly white nationalist rally that rocked Charlottesville, Virginia. The statues were removed with short notice and during the dead of night to avoid confrontation.
On Aug. 21, contractors uprooted three statues from the UT-Austin campus shortly after midnight, more than a week before students were scheduled to return for the fall semester. An hour before, university president Greg Fenves announced the abrupt decision to remove the monuments in a public letter. The university leader referenced the Charlottesville rally and described the statues as "symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism," The Texas Tribune reports.
"The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history," Fenves continued, according to The New York Times. "But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university's core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres."
On Aug. 11, white supremacists gathered at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and members of the so-called alt-right marched with torches and chanted racial and antisemitic epithets on the college campus. The following day on Aug. 12, the white nationalists staged a rally in the college town, violently clashing with counter protesters, The Washington Post reports.
The unruly rally turned murderous when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a crowd of anti-racist activists, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Meanwhile, Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates died in a helicopter crash while surveying the scene.
The monuments removed from the UT-Austin campus depicted Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston as well as Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan. A statue of 19th century Gov. James Stephen Hogg was also set to be removed, The Texas Tribune reports. Fenves noted that the Confederate statues were not erected shortly after the Civil War but during the era of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in Texas.
Hogg's statue was collateral damage in the other monuments' removal. UT-Austin spokesperson disclosed that while Hogg did not have a direct connection to the Confederacy, "the entire statuary is one exhibit, so it all goes together."
The Confederate monuments will be transferred to the university's Briscoe Center for American History. Hogg's statue is slated to be placed on another spot in the campus.
On the morning after the statues were removed, GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas blasted Fenves' during an interview with a local radio station, The Texas Tribune reports.
"Gosh, our universities are supposed to be where we learn about history and not repeat those moments of the past, and there was no discussion here... can we tolerate erasing our history?" Patrick said. "I think many Americans would say no."
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offered a neutral take on the matter during a press event.
"The University of Texas made a decision yesterday about how and whether to display and acknowledge that history," Cruz said of the Confederate monuments. "It's appropriate for each university to make that decision. It was the university's prerogative to make that decision."
Meanwhile, Democratic Mayor Steve Adler of Austin took to social media to praise the monuments' removal, asserting that placing the statues "in a history museum appropriately puts this past where it belongs."