Jefferson Davis statue: What you need to know

Matthew Adams

Following an attempt to prevent the relocation of the Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson statues, a temporary injunction hearing will be held in court on Aug. 27 to determine whether the statues are allowed to be removed.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a temporary restraining order in district court on Aug. 14, temporarily stalling the statues’ removal from their locations on campus.

Kirk Lyons, attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said in the complaint that the University cannot make the decision without approval from other entities.

“UT cannot move the statues without approval from the Texas Legislature, Texas Historical Commission or the Texas Preservation Board,” Lyons said. “Fenves thinks he can act unilaterally, and we beg to differ. We are going to court to let them make the decision instead of a non-elected bureaucrat.”

Lyons said a temporary restraining order hearing was originally scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 20, but the two sides reached an agreement Tuesday, effectively eliminating the need for a restraining order hearing.

“Since we already had the temporary restraining order, why did we need the hearing when we already had this?” Lyons said. “So, the [University] lawyers agreed to a temporary
injunction hearing.”

University spokesman J.B. Bird said the agreement to have one hearing instead of two separate ones does not change UT’s plans. The University will wait for a court’s decision before removing statues, according to Bird.

“We are confident we will be able to move forward with the plans,” Bird said. “Universities have the discretion under state law to relocate statues on their campuses.”

Lyons said each side will present six witnesses, and he expects more affidavits to be filed. One of his six witnesses will be David Steven Littlefield, a retired administrator from UT’s School of Pharmacy and a third cousin to George Littlefield, Lyons said. George Littlefield, a Confederate veteran, former regent and donor to the University, had the original vision to place the Davis statue on campus.

In February, students renewed conversation on the statue of Davis, the Confederate president, when Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalupu called for the removal of the statue during their campaign.

The Davis statue was first vandalized on March 2 when the word “Chump” with an arrow pointing toward Davis appeared on the statue in blue chalk. One day later, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu drafted a resolution to remove the statue and submitted it to SG, which nearly unanimously passed in the SG Assembly.

“It goes without saying that [Davis’] legacy continues to affect us today,” Mandalapu said after the resolution passed. “This statue serves as a permanent reminder of the atrocities committed against fellow humans.”

The second incident occurred on April 16 with the phrase “Davis must fall” and “Emanicipate UT” written in red and yellow spray paint.

The third and latest incident happened on June 23 when the phrase “Black lives matter” was found in red spray paint on the statues of Davis and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnson.

The next day, a 12-member task force led by Gregory Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, was announced to review the statues on campus.

“Generally speaking, statues and flags do have meaning,” Vincent said. “They do represent ideas and a number of things that invoke feelings and emotions. That is a concern of a significant number of students. President Fenves takes [that] very seriously.”

The committee held two public forums. Speakers mostly supported removing the Davis statue at the first forum on July 7, but speakers were more divided on its removal during the second forum on July 15.

After the task force received an extension for its decision, it submitted options on Aug. 10 to President Fenves regarding the statues in the Main and South malls, mainly calling for the relocation of the statues on campus. President Fenves decided Thursday the Davis statue would be relocated to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and the statue of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would be relocated elsewhere on campus.

“The Briscoe Center is the most logical location for the Davis statue and can provide a well-curated, scholarly context for its permanent display,” Fenves said in an email.

On Aug. 14, the University announced the statues of Davis and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would be removed the next day. Later that afternoon, the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a temporary restraining order attempting to prevent UT from removing the statues. A statement was sent by University spokesman Gary Susswein saying the statues would not be removed, and the University would wait until Aug. 27 for a court to review the matter.