History professor Fitz Brundage said Silent Sam, the statue of a Confederate soldier in McCorkle Place, has been periodically controversial since the late 1960s, when red paint was poured on the statue after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Brundage said he would like to see the monument used to engage students, faculty and visitors on the dynamic issues Silent Sam embodies — whether that be through performances or a walking tour of all the monuments on campus.
“I think it’s important for the University to be able to offer a kind of multilayer approach,” Brundage said. “No one should be able to pass through McCorkle Place who wants to learn something and not be able to learn it.”
Removing the Davis statue was the main point of UT-Austin Student Body President Xavier Rotnofsky’s campaign platform.
“It wasn’t until the shootings in Charleston that, here at UT, it got a lot of attention,” Rotnofsky said.
“We wrote a petition, student government wrote this petition, and it was on behalf of student government, to relocate the Jefferson Davis statue to a museum. We wrote that on a Saturday. That Monday, some students on campus, unaffiliated to me, tagged the Confederate statues on campus with the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
Before the spray-painting of the Davis statue, UT-Austin president Gregory Fenves agreed to create a task force, including Rotnofsky, to address what to do about the Davis statue. Three days after the task force submitted their report to Fenves, he decided to move the Davis statue, Rotnofsky said.
“The petition, with the graffiti, with the task force, just made it a priority for the administration,” Rotnofsky said.
Although many students supported the removal of the Davis statue, UT-Austin philosophy professor Al Martinich said that by removing the Davis statue and not adding a plaque reminding passersby that something was previously there, the university had ignored the historical impact of Jefferson Davis.
“I think that it was actually viewed as a public relations problem and not as a moral or political problem,” Martinich said. “So they just wanted to make the problem disappear and not to have a principle stand on what they do.”
June Beshea, an organizer for the Real Silent Sam Coalition, a group that supported the renaming of Saunders Hall and led the “Kick Out the KKK” campaign, said contextualizing Silent Sam wouldn’t mean anything.
“I don’t think the statue should be broken into pieces or anything like that, I think UT-Austin did an amazing thing which is ‘okay, let’s just take it and put it where it belongs — in a museum,’” Beshea said. “That just seemed like the most obvious way to deal with that.”