UT committee will determine Davis statue’s fate

The Jefferson Davis statue at the University of Texas (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

DALLAS (AP) – The University of Texas will establish a committee to determine the fate of the controversial Jefferson Davis statue, though a descendent of the president of the Confederacy says it’s “terrible” to link him so closely to the Confederate flag, arguing that he was a statesman with a broad list of accomplishments whose legacy is being unfairly demonized.

The announcement Tuesday that a panel of students, faculty and alumni will provide a list of options for new UT President Greg Fenves came hours after vandals scrawled “Black lives matter” and “Bump all the chumps” on the statue pedestal. The first of those slogans has been used during protests over several black men being killed by white police officers in the last year and after seven black church congregants in Charleston, South Carolina, were gunned down in what authorities say was a racial hate crime.

“I deeply understand the concerns of our students who have raised this issue,” Fenves said in a statement. “I have been working closely with them to consider the range of options that recognize the impact this statue has on our students and the need for us to understand and learn from our history.”

The UT Student Government earlier this year passed a resolution asking that the century-old statue be jettisoned, followed recently by an online petition asking that it be moved from the Austin campus to a museum “where history is preserved and studied.”

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“Given Jefferson Davis’ vehement support for the institution of slavery and white supremacy, we believe this statue is not in line with the university’s core values …” reads the petition offered by student leaders. It makes no mention of other Confederate war hero statues on campus, such as Gens. Robert E. Lee and Albert Johnston, both of which were also spray-painted early Tuesday morning with “Black lives matter.”

Davis’ great-great grandson, Bertram Hayes-Davis, said Tuesday he’s following the debate in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, in part because, “There’s no one in the country tied more to the Confederate flag than Jefferson Davis.”

He said his ancestor “has a whole lot more historic significance to this country than that battle flag stands for,” and that he’s been condemned for his Civil War post even though Davis also was a U.S. senator from Mississippi, a U.S. secretary of war and soldier.

“Know who it is that you’re talking about before you make a statement about one specific part of his life,” said Hayes-Davis, a resident of Gulfport, Mississippi.

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Jefferson Davis did not embrace early secession efforts, Hayes-Davis said, and was reluctant to accept an appointment as president, though he did so out of a sense of duty to Mississippi and the nascent Confederate States of America.

A portrait of Davis also hangs in the Texas Senate, and there’s no apparent attempt to have it taken down.

Fenves’ statement did not establish a timeline for when the committee will provide to him a list of options for the statue.