Column: Why we should continue removing Confederate symbols

A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is moved from its location in front of the school's main tower the University of Texas campus, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The Davis statue, which has been targeted by vandals and had come under increasing criticism, will be moved and placed in the school's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as part of an educational display. (Eric Gay/AP)

The University of Texas removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from its pedestal on their campus’ Main Mall on Sunday. Confederate symbols started being taken down more noticeably after the murder of nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina this summer, but local leaders should continue the push to remove these symbols from the public sphere.

The University of Texas student government passed a resolution to remove the statue, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans group opposed the resolution.

Gregory L. Fenves, the university president, wrote to faculty and staff: “While every historical figure leaves a mixed legacy, I believe Jefferson Davis is in a separate category, and that it is not in the university’s best interest to continue commemorating him on our Main Mall.”

Fenves statement, while lukewarm, captures the necessity to remove Confederate symbols from commemorative pedestals and parks on state and public grounds. While every individual holds their own opinions about America’s history, Southern heritage and its figures, it is time to draw the line at the Confederacy. 

About one hundred and fifty years between the end of the civil war and today have long allowed for the origins of the Confederacy to be assimilated to early American Southern heritage. Regardless, Davis and the Confederate must be seen as pro-slavery monuments in need of removal or placement in an American history museum. 

In case there were any doubts of the Confederacy’s slavery-centered origins, it was Jefferson Davis himself who, as president of the Confederacy, argued, "African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing." Such statements are everything but acceptable and the statues of Davis and other confederate leaders should be considered public homages to the principles that protected slavery in America.

According to Twitter posts from Ralph Haurwitz, a reporter covering higher education for the Austin American-Statesman, crowds chanted as the statues were removed and one woman held a sign reading, “No slave owner is a hero – take them all down!”

The removal of Jefferson Davis’ statue and subsequent placement in the Briscoe Center for American history on the University of Texas’ campus is a step in the right direction, but the removal of confederate symbols must be thorough and constant. Local leaders and government should be unwavering on this issue when it comes to the public sphere. Currently, Black Americans throughout the south raise their families in towns and streets honorably named after Confederate generals and heroes. 

Growing up near streets and parks that commemorate the actions of Confederate Rebels forces the sentiments of America’s racially violent past, no matter how inconspicuously, into mainstream American culture and views on race. The advocacy for Confederate symbols to remain on display is a perfect example of this – why does a proud Southerner with a strong connection to heritage feel the need to protect, as an almost necessary component, pro-slavery Confederate statues and flags?

Americans in the South should be commemorating famous and celebrated elements of their heritage such as the regional cuisine and soul food, sports teams, literature of the Southern Renaissance and the creation of modern soul, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, folk and blues music – not racial violence and slavery.

There is still so much work to be done. Even at the University of Texas, statues of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston, as well as John H. Reagan, one of the Confederate postmasters general, will remain in place on campus, according to a statement by the university.

The only way to truly honor victims and protect American communities from the oft unrecognized effects of racially divisive symbols and monuments is, simply, to take them down. 

The murder of black churchgoers by a white supremacist and subsequent media coverage this past summer put the nature of Confederate symbols back into the national dialogue, but now is still the time to continue with the removal of symbols. Local leaders must keep breaking down and moving into museums the Confederate symbols and structures that perpetuate and commemorate America’s racially violent past as an object of its present.


Bennett Cognato is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at bennett.cognato@uconn.edu.