The University of Texas has quietly removed an inscription honoring the Confederacy and Southern pride from the South Mall nearly a year after UT President Gregory L. Fenves said that the inscription “will remain in place.”
Fenves told the American-Statesman this week that he decided this spring that the inscription had to go. The inscription is dedicated to “the men and women of the Confederacy who fought with valor and suffered with fortitude that states rights be maintained” and who were “not dismayed by defeat nor discouraged by misrule.” It makes no mention of slavery.
“It is inappropriate for our goal of diversity and inclusion on campus,” Fenves said.
The stone panels bearing the inscription were removed from a wall just west of the Littlefield Fountain last month. Although a public announcement didn’t seem warranted, Fenves said, there was no effort to hide the work, which took place in the open.
The panels are in storage for now and will be considered for possible exhibition at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History, Fenves said.
The UT president announced in August of last year in an open letter to the university community that the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis would be moved from the Main Mall into the Briscoe Center. He said statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee and three other people with Confederate ties, as well as the inscription, would stay on the South Mall.
In deciding at that time to retain the inscription, Fenves rejected an advisory panel’s recommendation to remove it. Instead, Fenves said he would consider placing a plaque near the fountain to provide historical context for the inscription and the remaining statues.
The UT president told the Statesman that the inscription remained “in the back of my mind” for months.
“I think it is great news that the university has taken a positive step to make the university more welcoming to African-American students,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. “Such inscriptions and displays are psychologically and emotionally harmful to many citizens, and they inhibit the university’s efforts to be widely considered to be a top international institution.”
Officials of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sued unsuccessfully last year in an effort to block the removal of the Davis statue, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The university has struggled for decades to overcome its segregated history. African-American students were barred from attending until the summer of 1950, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered UT to admit a black man to its School of Law. In recent years, UT added statues of prominent black and Hispanic figures to the campus. And in June the Supreme Court upheld UT’s consideration of race and ethnicity in undergraduate admissions.
An upcoming challenge for the university and its governing board involves the Lions Municipal Golf Course, which the federal government recently added to the National Register of Historic Places because it was one of the earliest, if not the first, municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated. The city-operated course sits on university-owned land in West Austin that the UT System Board of Regents has long contemplated leasing for residential and commercial development.
Muny, as the course is known, is part of a larger parcel donated to the university in 1910 by George Brackenridge, a banker and regent who had sided with the Union in the Civil War. His rival was George Littlefield, a regent and Confederate veteran who donated funds for the statues and for whom the fountain is named.
The inscription, which includes Littlefield’s name, was installed with the construction of the fountain, in 1932 or 1933, said Jim Nicar, a longtime student of UT history.
The Davis statue and a statue of President Woodrow Wilson, which was removed from the Main Mall along with Davis’ statue to maintain symmetry, are still being cleaned professionally off-campus, said J.B. Bird, a UT spokesman.
“When the Davis statue returns, it will be placed as part of the Briscoe Center renovation project that’s still underway,” Bird said. “Once the Wilson statue is cleaned, it will be stored in a secure location, awaiting a placement decision.”