Following the August 11 and 12 “Unite the Right” rallies – where white supremacists gathered to protest the removal of Confederate monuments – cities across the United States have slowly started taking down these symbols of oppression and racism. On Sunday night, about 10 days before the beginning of classes, the University of Texas at Austin quietly began removing three statues.
According to The New York Times, the university’s president, Greg Fenves, called for their removal after seeing the Charlottesville rallies take a violent turn. On Friday, torch-bearing white supremacists marched on the University of Virginia chanting “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us,” according to The New York Times. The next day, counter-protesters stood up to hate, but it ended in tragedy after 20-year-old James Alex Field Jr. – a man who by his senior year of high school was known as “the Nazi of the school” – allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 more. Elsewhere, a group of men physically attacked a 20-year-old black man – who ended up receiving eight staples in his head – nearby a police station.
In a letter to the school, Fenves spoke about his decision to rid the school of Robert E.Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and John Reagan statues. He explained that they represented “modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”
“The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history,” he wrote. “But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state, and the enduing values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres.”
The school – which has a 20 percent Latino and about 4 percent black student body – chose to remove the statue at night “for public safety and to minimize disruption to the community,” the Texas Tribune reports. The removal of Confederate statues is a contentious issue. One side sees the statues – erected during the Jim Crow era – as a further subjugation of the African-American community. The other side sees the toppling of Confederate statues as erasing their history.
But we can’t erase history; we can simply ignore or hide it. And as white nationalists fight for these statues, they disregard that this country does not recognize its complete history, and that’s what’s truly dangerous. As Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas said on Twitter, “Most Americans do not know the full extent of US history. And we are living through the consequences of that ignorance and indifference.”