Professor Says Jefferson Davis Statue Should Be Removed, Preserved
Confederate flags are coming down across the South as governments and institutions respond to calls to remove symbols of a racist past. At the University of Texas at Austin, thousands of students have petitioned the school to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
Professor Don Carleton says the statue was actually intended to be part of a display about the country unifying after the war, and while he agrees that it should be removed from the campus, he told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that it should still be preserved.
“It’s been a moving target, but at first I thought we should just put plaques up explaining why those statues are there. They’re totally out of context,” Carleton said. “But now I think we’ve reached a point where we probably ought to go ahead and remove the statues from their present location, move them to a more appropriate place. And I think a more appropriate place would be more in a museum setting.”
Recent events, namely the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have intensified the debate, he said.
“There’s been a seismic shift in public opinion, and I think we have to take that into consideration,” he said.
Carleton said “there’s no litmus test” for what statues or other historical artifacts to remove and when, and that government officials have to rely on common sense and the pulse of the people.
“There’s been a seismic shift in public opinion, and I think we have to take that into consideration.”
“The Confederate flag for example, I’m against destroying the flag, the battle flag,” he said. “People can happily fly that from their homes if they want to, because that’s freedom of speech. But what we’re talking about here is government. We have to get away from the idea that we’re destroying history.”
So where – as critics like Houston Mayor Annise Parker asked – does it end? If today it’s a statue of Jefferson Davis, could a statue of President George Washington, who owned slaves, be next?
“Jefferson Davis was never president of the United States, and he led a rebellion. He was a traitor,” Carleton said. “And he was never elected by the people of the United States to be president of the United States. So you can’t compare him to George Washington.”
- Don Carleton, professor at the University of Texas, Austin and executive director at the Briscoe Center for American History.
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