Jefferson Davis statue reaches Briscoe Center

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dolph Briscoe Center for American Studies | Daily Texan Staff

At 8 feet, 6 inches tall, the refurbished and controversial Jefferson Davis statue reached its final destination at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, returning to
university grounds. 

After a restoration in Chicago, the statue is now a part of an exhibit displaying the statue’s history and its journey to the Briscoe Center.

“It used to be commemorated — now it simply exists as a teaching moment on campus,” said Benjamin Wright, assistant director for communications at the Briscoe Center. “It’s here to educate students and scholars and indeed any member of the public who’s interested on how UT’s changed over the last 80 or so years.”

The statue was part of numerous protests and vandalizations in 2015. This led to the formation of a task force that looked at the repercussions of removing the statue, leaving the final decision to President Gregory Fenves. It was later removed in August from the Main Mall, along with the statue of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.  

“Davis had few ties to Texas. He played a unique role in the history of the American South that is best explained and understood through an educational exhibit,” Fenves said in a statement in 2015. “The Briscoe Center is the logical location for the Davis statue and can provide a well-curated, scholarly context for its permanent display.”

Wright said the Briscoe Center is prepared for critics. 

“We’re interested in the truth and in displaying the truth and displaying the evidence of the past,” Wright said. “Any student who feels uncomfortable about the statue being here (should know) the statue is no longer commemorated. It’s no longer in a place of honor. It exists as a piece of evidence in our historical exhibit.”

Student Government passed a resolution supporting the removal of the statue in March 2015, led by former executive alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, who made it a part of their campaign platform. 

“It started out as what we thought was an absurd promise,” Rotnofsky said. “More philosophical and morally, we thought it was ridiculous that we still had Confederate statues up.”

Following another vandalism to the statue in the summer of 2015, Rotnofsky was one of 12 members on the task force considering different options for the statue. Rotnofsky said the task force wanted the statue to be contextualized and used for educational opportunities.

When the Briscoe Center pitched their idea to the task force, Rotnofsky said it was a great idea.

“It’s cool that it’s finally found a place,” Rotnofsky said. “I’d like to visit it next time I’m in Texas.”

Public health sophomore Kayla Eboreime, political action chair for UT Black Student Alliance, said she supports the statue’s placement in the Briscoe Center because it will help people see how far the University has come in terms of diversity. 

“It’s important that we preserve our history, especially because forgetting our history impacts how we’re treated in the future,” Eboreime said. “I’m really happy it was taken off of campus, because we need to be more diverse and I think having symbols that are racist and exclusive in nature don’t promote a healthy community for students to learn and grow.”

The exhibit, From Commemoration to Education: Pompeo Coppini’s Statue of Jefferson Da vis, and the entire museum opened Saturday for an open house after renovations were completed and will be formally opened today.