Monday, April 24, marked Confederate Memorial Day, which in different forms and fashions is still celebrated in eight states. Because we’re quirky and unique, I assume, Texas celebrates the arguably worse “Confederate Heroes Day” on Jan. 19 — the birthday of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Unsurprisingly, the remembrance of the Civil War is too often focused on the glorification of men who fought to defend an institution that denied African-Americans of their humanity. Under the guise of “heritage” and “honor,” statues and memorials that venerate a grim part of Texas history are a prominent part of the campus landscape.
Somehow, the monstrosity of boats and canoes outside of the Norman Hackerman Building isn’t the worst sculpture choice made by the University. Major George Washington Littlefield was a prolific donor to the University and served as a UT regent from 1911 to 1920. Accordingly, he had a key role in deciding which monuments would be memorialized by the University.
As a former plantation manager and officer in the Confederate Army, Major Littlefield chose to create monuments to honor his heroes, including the current Robert E. Lee, Albert S. Johnston and John H. Reagan statues on campus. As time has progressed, the University is now located on a street named after Martin Luther King Jr. and boasts a statue of the storied civil rights leader.
But he is surrounded by statues of men who would have silenced him.
In 2015 President Gregory Fenves removed a statue to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, citing a lack of significant connection to Texas beyond his role in the insurrectionist South. Yet, lining the South Mall there are still three statues of leaders who represent the rebellion of the Confederate States. And for whatever reason, a memorial to Robert E. Lee stands with an inscription that never makes any mention of Texas. In fact, each inscription lists the positions held by each man without detailing the goal to preserve slavery. It is clear that a significant purpose of these statues is to maintain the legacy of the Confederacy.
Contrary to revisionist “facts”, Texas secession was because of slavery. In 1861 the Texas Legislature published its reasons for secession, including this fun little tidbit of pernicious racism: “(Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race.” But yes, the secession was about taxes.
The goal here is not destroy Confederate history, as history reminds us to recognize the shameful mistakes of our past. But do not confuse statues of Confederate soldiers as Civil War memorials. Public monuments serve to elevate those they represent. There is a reason that we have the Lincoln Memorial, and not one for John Wilkes Booth. Keep these historical figures in museums. Put on display statues of abolitionists and patriots because the monuments and names of a campus communicate with visitors in their own unique language. Prospective minority students do not first see the statues of Barbara Jordan, Dr. King, or Cesar Chavez. Rather, they see the ancient eyes of generals and officers who fought for an institution that would prevent hopeful students from attending a world-class university like UT.
Confederate “Heroes” Day simplifies the Civil War into a rosy “Gone with the Wind” view of history, and the monuments we build reaffirm this twisted narrative. Even more awkwardly, Confederate Heroes Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincide every so often. It is time UT decided which type of campus they want to maintain: one that reveres the legacy of bloodshed and slavery or a campus that embraces the dream of achieving diversity and equality.
Hasan is a business freshman from Plano. Follow him on Twitter @UzzieHasan.