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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Jefferson Davis Statue May Come Down

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - The new student government's plan to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the University of Texas at Austin campus has stirred some controversy.

New student body President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu "plan on taking down the Jefferson Davis statue," they wrote in their candidate statement for the March election. Last week the student government approved a resolution that the statue of the president of the Confederacy be removed.

As editors of the UT humor newspaper, The Texas Travesty, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu have a satirical slant on politics.

They "promise that Bill Powers will no longer be president of the university by the end of the spring 2015 semester." (President Bill Powers is stepping down in June.)

They "promise to increase transparency in student government by mandating everyone in student government wear only cellophane so that they can be perfectly see-through."

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu said they want the statue gone because Davis was an ardent defender of slavery.

The statue dates to the end of World War I, and was erected with a statue of Woodrow Wilson.

University officials told Courthouse News that this was done to "show that the American effort in World War I brought the final reunification of the nation after the rupture of the Civil War."

The proposal to remove the statue must be sent to the president's office for approval. Gregory L. Fenves, now executive vice president and provost, was recently named the sole finalist among candidates for presidency of the university.

Ben Jones, Heritage Chief for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, thinks the statue should stay.

Jones is a former two-term Democratic Congressman from Georgia, an honorary life member of the NAACP, and a founding sponsor of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He is probably best known, however, for playing Cooter the mechanic on "The Dukes of Hazzard," which ran from 1979 to 1985.

Jones said that while the UT student government may have an altruistic motive for removing the statue, it is divisive, prejudicial and un-American for people to attack every vestige of the Confederacy.

Jones told Courthouse News the statue should stay: that removing it would be a cultural attack upon ancestors of Southerners, and that UT officials should stand up for freedom of expression and the right to have different opinions. To remove it would be to "whitewash" U.S. history in the name of political correctness, Jones said.

He said Jefferson Davis deserves a statue because he was an American leader and hero who served as a U.S. senator and secretary of war. "We can't forget where we came from," Jones said, adding that cultural "cleansing" is akin to fascism.

Jones reminded Courthouse News that the economy of the nation was built on slavery, with founding fathers George Washington and James Madison themselves being slave owners. Slavery was not a Southern sin, but a "national sin," he said.

Slavery and civil war aside, an article in Humanities - The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, claimed that Davis "nurtured a transcendent vision of the United States as a great nation far more substantial than the sum of its fractious, disunited parts."

"The U.S. Capitol as we know it today would never have existed without Jefferson Davis. In many ways, it is his building," the magazine reported, under the headline, "The Other Jefferson Davis."

The September-October 2012 article by Guy Gugliotta, a respected 16-year veteran of The Washington Post, says Davis was a driving force in the ambitious project to renovate and expand the United States Capitol into the "sprawling, magisterial seat of government" that it is today.

In 1850, Davis, as U.S. senator from Mississippi, was able to procure an initial $200,000 for the Capitol expansion project. He narrowly won the money by a vote of 24-21.

Davis enlisted the help of Army engineer Montgomery Meigs and architect Thomas Walter in the Capitol redesign, which included a cast-iron dome, thicker marble façade, iron window frames, English tiles and painted frescoes for the ceilings and walls. Davis ignored complaints about the ornateness of the Capitol's "high style" and obtained more funding when needed. The final touch was the statue Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace, mounted on top of the Capitol dome in 1863, during the height of the Civil War.

It is a blend of Roman goddess and Indian princess crowned with an eagle headdress that resembles a rooster with its mouth open.

Davis never saw the completed Capitol, as he resigned his Senate seat in 1861 and left Washington after Mississippi seceded from the Union.

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