Confederate statues removed from South Mall over the summer will not join the Jefferson Davis statue in the Briscoe Center for American History said Ben Wright, associate director for communications, in a panel discussion on Wednesday evening.
The Davis statue removed from South Mall in 2015 has been available for public viewing in a Briscoe Center exhibit since April, but Wright said the statues of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan removed at the request of UT President Gregory Fenves over the summer will not be so visible.
“There are some real space and expense practicality issues,” Wright said. “The mandate for the Davis statue is to relocate it to a museum setting, while the mandate for the other statues is to make them available for researchers. They have been downgraded from objects of commemoration to objects of education.”
Although the statues had been on campus since the 1930s, Wright said they had not been the subject of controversy for student organizers during the civil rights movement of the 1960s because the issue was not as important as others that students sought to counter.
“I asked some alumni who had been on campus during the civil rights movement why they had not taken any action against the statues,” Wright said. “They told me they were too busy desegregating the cafeteria. They had bigger fish to fry.”
Sarah Sonner, assistant director for exhibits curation, said the exhibit was created to present the statue as an artifact in context of its historical significance to the University rather than to glorify Davis as an individual.
“We have the resources to really give people the full picture of this object’s history,” Sonner said. “We wanted to present this object in context as well. After the Charleston shootings, we needed to tell this complex history, and we needed to tell it in a way where people coming to see this could not escape it.”
Design freshman Claudia Durand said she thought that the decision to exhibit the Davis statue but not the other statues was a product of changes in social climate between 2015 and 2017.
“I don’t think (Jefferson) is more of a prominent sort of southern figure,” Durand said. “I see this as a product of the timeline of events. I don’t think choosing that statue over the others has brought impact.”