AUSTIN, Texas — The statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis will be relocated from the Main Mall at The University of Texas at Austin to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, where it will become part of a new educational exhibit, university President Gregory L. Fenves announced today.
“As a public university, it is vital that we preserve and understand our history and help our students and the public learn from it in meaningful ways,” said Fenves. “Jefferson Davis had few ties to Texas but played a unique role in the history of the American South that is best explained and understood through an educational exhibit. The Briscoe Center has the expertise to do that.”
Statues of James Stephen Hogg, Albert Sidney Johnston, John H. Reagan and Robert E. Lee will remain on the Main Mall. Hogg, Johnston and Reagan all had deep ties to Texas, and Lee’s complicated legacy to Texas and the nation should not be reduced to his role in the Civil War, Fenves said.
A statue of President Woodrow Wilson that stands opposite the Davis statue will be relocated to an exterior location on campus that has not yet been determined in order to maintain symmetry in the Main Mall space.
Fenves made the decision to relocate the statue after reviewing options presented by a 12-member task force and receiving input from many Texans including UT alumni, students and faculty members. He announced the relocation in a letter to students, faculty members and staffers.
The Davis statue will be moved from its current location and refurbished for indoor display. It will be installed at the Briscoe Center once a planned renovation there is complete.
“The Briscoe Center’s planned renovation includes dedicated exhibit space for the role of symbolism, statuary and public memory in American history,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the center. “The Davis statue will be incorporated into this exhibit, where it will play a prominent role in educating students and visitors.”
The Briscoe Center, which is part of UT Austin, is an internationally recognized history research center with one of the nation’s largest collections related to Southern history. It initiates and conducts scholarly research in its extensive archives, sponsors exhibitions and publications, oversees three museums and curates thousands of artifacts including statues of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and Sam Rayburn.
The university will also consider placing a plaque on the Main Mall to provide historical context for the remaining statues and for an inscription west of the Littlefield Fountain that pays tribute to the Confederacy and Southern patriotism.
All six statues and the fountain were part of a plan that was developed by former university regent and major early benefactor George W. Littlefield and executed by sculptor Pompeo Coppini — but never fully completed. Both men’s papers are housed at the Briscoe Center.
UT Austin has worked in recent decades to overcome its history as a segregated university and has become a national leader in issues related to diversity and inclusion. Adding the statue to the Briscoe Center’s collections will continue those efforts.
During the past five years, UT Austin has created the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. UT Austin is also currently defending its use of race and ethnicity as one factor in its admissions process in a case before the United States Supreme Court.