In 2010, at the request of President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents voted to rename a residence hall honoring William Simkins. Although Simkins was a longtime School of Law faculty member, the regents rightly found that his good on campus was outweighed by his associations with both the Confederacy during the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan thereafter.
Simkins, at the very least, had ties to the UT community. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, did not. Yet there is still a large and grand statue on campus honoring Davis. Accordingly, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates for Student Government president and vice president, respectively, recently filed legislation in the SG Assembly to remove the statue.
Tellingly, Braydon Jones, the other Student Government presidential candidate in this week's runoff election and also the speaker of the Assembly, has co-sponsored this resolution. Thus, we can say with some certainty that the next president will support the toppling of this celebration of a harmful past.
Davis and other Confederate leaders betrayed this country by attempting to secede and fighting an armed insurrection to that effect. Though revisionist references to their justification point to states' rights, the major reason for the conflict was the continuation of slavery. Or rather, to be generous to the states' rights camp, the states' right to enslave human beings.
When the statue of Davis was erected in the early part of the 20th century, Jim Crow still reigned supreme in Texas, and few at this University stopped to consider the offensiveness of such actions to African-Americans and other minorities. (The campus was not yet integrated.)
Sadly, many will complain that the removal of the statue would somehow censor the past or revise history, when nothing could be further from the truth. Tributes to Davis and other prominent Confederates were only launched at the height of Jim Crow in an effort to whitewash the atrocities of antebellum Dixie. Removing the statue would not cause students and others to not learn about Davis; rather, it would allow them to learn about him the right way, critically and in a classroom. (This campus has plenty of those.)
There are countless other wrongs on this front that the University should right sooner rather than later, including a number of other offensive statues. But the tribute to Davis is the very worst and should be dealt with most immediately. Thankfully, there is now good reason to believe that someone, either a President Jones or a President Rotnofsky, will try to do something about it.