The University of Texas at Austin abruptly took down four Confederate statues — including one of Gen. Robert E. Lee — on a prominent part of the campus early Monday morning.
The university's president ordered the immediate removal of the statues, saying that Confederate monuments — which were praised as "beautiful" by President Trump — have become "symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."
In a written statement, UT's president, Gregory L. Fenves, announced that four Confederate statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan, and James Stephen Hogg were being removed from the Main Mall following discussions with student leaders, alumni, and staff after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation," Fenves wrote. "These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."
The violence in Charlottesville was sparked after white supremacists held a rally to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman, was killed after a white supremacist allegedly ran his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters.
After failing to strongly condemn the rally, Trump not only defended white supremacists but also compared Lee — a Confederate general who fought to preserve slavery — to founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
In the past, Trump has also praised Lee as a "great general."
"Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans," Fenves wrote. "That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry."
Fenves said that the statues of Lee, Johnston, and Reagan would be added to the collection of the Briscoe Center for scholarly study while the statue of Hogg — the Texas governor from 1891 to 1895 — will be "considered for re-installation at another campus site."
"The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus — and the connections that individuals have with them — are severely compromised by what they symbolize," Fenves said.
Crews began removing the statues at 11 p.m. on Sunday night without giving any advance notice for "public safety reasons," a university spokesperson told Dallas News.
The university also took down statues of Jefferson Davis — the only president of the Confederate States of America — and US President Woodrow Wilson, following the 2015 deadly shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
While the university cordoned off the area where the statues were being removed, some onlookers confronted each other, while others celebrated the statues' removal.
"The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history," Fenves wrote in his statement. "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 enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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