Court to decide jurisdiction of Jefferson Davis statue relocation

Lauren Florence

A hearing regarding the relocation of two statues on campus will be heard Thursday to determine who has jurisdication over the historical monuments.

After UT President Gregory Fenves announced the relocation of the Jefferson Davis statue to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the Woodrow Wilson statue to another unspecified location on campus on Aug. 14, the Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a temporary restraining order.

The restraining order prevents the University from moving the statues, and the University agreed to go to court to review the case.

According to their court filings, the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the University decided to relocate the statues without approval from the Texas Legislature, the State Preservation Board or the Texas Historical Commission.

The court documents cite a state law requiring approval by one of those agencies except under the circumstance that a “monument or memorial may be removed, relocated, or altered … as necessary to accommodate construction, repair, or improvements to the monument or memorial.”

In an Aug. 14 statement, Gary Susswein, University director of media relations, said UT has legal authority over statues on its campus.

“Universities have the discretion under state law to relocate statues on their campuses,” Susswein said in a statement. “President Fenves’ decision to move the Jefferson Davis statue to UT’s Briscoe Center for American History is both the right course forward and consistent with the law.”

According to its website, the State Preservation Board “preserves and maintains the Texas Capitol, the Capitol Extension, the General Land Office Building, other designated buildings,” as well as providing services for the Texas Governor’s Mansion and operating the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

There is no mention on the State Preservation Board’s website concerning jurisdiction over historical monuments and memorials on UT’s campus.

Chris Currens, State Preservation Board director of special projects, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kirk Lyons, the attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, created a GoFundMe page to help pay legal and research fees and travel expenses for his staff in North Carolina to come to Austin. The page has raised over $8,500 in 12 days.

The group’s goal is to keep the Jefferson Davis in the Main Mall, according to the GoFundMe page. The page compares relocating the Davis statue to destruction of historical monuments in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State group (ISIS). “Before this happens again somewhere else, funds are needed to provide critical legal research & measures to prevent other ISIS style
atrocities before it is too late. What statues or monuments will be next?” Lyons said on the GoFundMe page.

In a statement to the UT community, President Fenves said the decision to relocate the Jefferson Davis statue to an educational exhibit at the Briscoe Center will help Davis’ role in history be best explained and understood.

“While every historical figure leaves a mixed legacy, I believe Jefferson Davis is in a separate category, and that it is not in the university’s best interest to continue commemorating him on our Main Mall,” Fenves said in a statement.

The University will wait to make a decision regarding the relocation of the Davis and Wilson statues until after the hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday.