Texas University removes Confederate statues calling them 'symbols of modern white supremacy'

The University of Texas has quickly removed statues of Robert E Lee and other prominent Confederate figures from the main area of its Austin campus, just hours after the school's president ordered they be taken down.

University President Greg Fenves abruptly announced late on Sunday that the statues would be removed, saying such monuments have become "symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism".

Crews worked through the night amid a heavy police presence.

The school blocked off the area, and some arguments occurred among those gathered.

However, all the statues of Lee, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate Postmaster General John H Reagan were successfully taken down.

By late Monday morning, people walking by were stopping to gawk at the four pedestals, empty except for some construction debris and the bolts that once held the statues in place.

Some snapped selfies, while a few climbed up the structures where the statues once stood.

But the scene remained peaceful and the area largely deserted. The university does not begin classes until next week.

Mr Fenves said the statues would be moved to the Briscoe Centre for American History on campus.

The university in 2015 moved a statue of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis from its perch near the campus clock tower, the same area as the other statues, to the history museum.

As the statues were being taken down, fewer than 30 people, both supporters and opponents of Mr Fenves' order, congregated behind barricades near the statues.

Among them was Mark Peterson, who identified himself as a University of Houston student. He was seething at the removal of the statues.

"I hate the erasure of history and my people's history... people of European descent who built this country," the 22-year-old said. "It burns me to my core."

Mike Lowe, an activist for the removal of Confederate statues in San Antonio, was driving to Dallas when he heard the statues were coming down, turned around and drove to campus.

Mr Lowe, who is African-American, engaged in a brief but tense argument with a white male protester until police stepped in to separate them.

"They have no other reasons than 'you are erasing our history'. Their reasoning is flawed.

"These monuments represent white supremacy, and black lives haven't mattered in this county the same as a white man's matters," the 37-year-old said.

The debate over public memorials for Confederate figures roared into national conversation last week after a woman was killed and 19 were injured when a car drove into a crowd of people in a clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation.

"These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism," Mr Fenves said in a statement.

Moving the Davis statue in 2015 was a much more deliberate effort.

The Davis statue had long been a target of vandalism.

Mr Fenves convened a special task force to discuss its future after a shooting rampage by a white supremacist at a Charleston, South Carolina, church and ultimately decided it should come down.

Confederate groups tried to block the removal of the Davis statue and the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued to stop it, but a state district judge sided with the school.

The decision to take down the others came much quicker.

Mr Fenves said he spoke with student leaders, students, faculty members, staff members and alumni last week about what to do after the events in Virginia.

"The University of Texas at Austin is a public educational and research institution, first and foremost.

"The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus - and the connections that individuals have with them - are severely compromised by what they symbolise," he said.

"Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans.

"That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolise hatred and bigotry."

AP


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