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31 Aug, 2015 19:26

Statue of Confederate president removed from UT Austin

Statue of Confederate president removed from UT Austin

One of the nation's largest public universities has removed from prominent display on campus a statue of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America. The move comes amid a national uproar over Confederate symbols since the Charleston massacre.

Wrapped in plastic, the limestone statue that rested on the University of Texas-Austin's Main Mall was loaded onto a flatbed trailer on Sunday, along with a statue of former US President Woodrow Wilson. The statues were erected 82 years ago, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

Removal of the Davis statue was mainly prompted by a Student Government resolution, in addition to an outbreak of scrutiny applied to Confederate symbols since the June shooting of nine black parishioners of a Charleston, South Carolina, church by a Confederate sympathizer.

University president Gregory L. Fenves announced the decision to remove the statue this month, saying the school should no longer venerate the leader of the Confederate states, which seceded from the United States largely due to its defense of slavery. The Confederacy's break from the Union led to the American Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Within 18 months, the Davis statue will be installed at the university's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The fate of the Wilson statue is undecided, university officials said.

“This is an iconic moment. It really shows the power of student leadership,” said Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement, according to the Statesman.

Last week, state civil district Judge Karin Crump denied a temporary injunction to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that filed a temporary restraining order to keep the Davis statue in place.

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“When you start cleansing statues from a center of higher learning, it’s just a dangerous precedent,” Kirk Lyons, attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said of Crump's decision, according to The Daily Texan.

On Sunday, Lyons told the Statesman the removals represent an “ISIS-style cleansing of history,” referring to the destruction of cultural artifacts in the Middle East by the jihadist group Islamic State.

Around 50 people watched the removal of the Davis statue, a UT Police Department spokeswoman told the Statesman.

The statue had been vandalized many times over the years, most recently in June when the words "black lives matter" were painted on the Davis statue's base. The school, opened in 1883, did not admit blacks until it was forced to do so through a US Supreme Court court decision in 1950.

“Far from whitewashing history, we would put Jefferson Davis in his proper historical context.” Dr. Vincent said in his testimony at the Heman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse this month prior to Judge Crump's final ruling.

The school decided to keep on public display four other monuments to Confederate leaders with closer ties to the state, according to the Statesman. The statues are in place largely based on donations to the university by George Washington Littlefield, who fought in the Civil War with "Terry's Texas Rangers." Littlefield stipulated that his donations must be accompanied with acknowledgements of the state's Southern heritage.