Houston News & Search
The University of Houston announced Monday it will rename its Calhoun Lofts dormitory, joining other Texas colleges and universities in a nationwide recoil against statues and other monuments to slavery and white supremacy.
The dorm — named after the nearby street that bears the moniker of former U.S. Vice President John Calhoun, who advocated for slavery and was an avowed white supremacist — will be called University Lofts, a spokesman said Monday.
“While the residence hall was not named in recognition of John C. Calhoun, in the wake of recent events, and out of sensitivity to our diverse student community the university has decided to change the name to University Lofts,” the university said in a statement. “The change will be made as soon as practical.”
Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University both pledged Monday to review artifacts linked to the Confederacy, while the University of Texas at Austin took down four statues overnight Sunday.
The actions follow a backlash on college campuses after protests to preserve a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned deadly near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville Aug. 12.
UT-Austin removed life-size bronze figures of Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg, culminating a decades-long debate at the state flagship university.
“The horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation,” UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves said in a letter announcing his decision. “These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”
Fenves’ decision was cheered among some alumni, current students and even UT’s Chancellor William McRaven but drew sharp criticism from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
At Texas A&M, President Michael Young said a statue of Confederate general and former Texas A&M President Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross would stay but that the university would examine other historical artifacts to assess their consistency with the school’s core values. Other universities in the A&M System would also examine their artifacts, Chancellor John Sharp said in a statement.
Texas Tech officials said they would reconsider the display of two Confederate generals on the north side of an administrative building.
In Houston, officials with UH, Rice University, the University of St. Thomas and Texas Southern University said they have no statues or monuments honoring Confederate leaders.
Supporters of removing Confederate monuments say that it’s wrong to honor a rebel army that broke away from the U.S. to preserve slavery. But two surveys this month show that a significant group of Americans believe the statues should remain.
‘Where does it stop?’
The Texas lieutenant government Monday criticized UT-Austin for removing the statues in the “middle of the night.”
In a radio interview, Patrick said while he does not tolerate racism, tearing down statues sends “a poor message.”
“I thought universities were where we were supposed to have robust discussions about our history,” Patrick said. “Where does it stop?”
He also criticized the university for giving “no notice” on its plans to remove the statutes, which UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said was to minimize disruption and to ensure public safety.
UT-Austin officials said Sunday that statues of Lee, Johnston and Reagan will be placed in the Briscoe Center, a research space with exhibits on the American South. The representation of Hogg, the former Texas governor, may be placed elsewhere on campus, Fenves said.
Historian and author Kevin Levin, who focuses on the Civil War, said that it’s no surprise that universities can relocate monuments more quickly than cities can. UT’s statues are among at least a dozen to be moved since the clash in Charlottesville, he said.
“For universities with the resources and also the mandate to educate, it makes sense that these monuments can find a place in a museum setting where they can be properly interpreted,” he said. “The argument that taking down these monuments is erasing history, you can’t say that about UT-Austin. If anything, they’re providing more information.”
The death of a woman protester in Charlottesville and rising racial divisions have galvanized local institutions to take action, he said.
“This is a moment of racial tension, on a national level,” he said. “I think this is playing out as part of that.”
Decades of debate
Confederate statues at UT-Austin have divided the university for decades. The pieces were commissioned in 1916 by Major George W. Littlefield, a former UT regent, donor and Confederate veteran.
Like the monuments at UT-Austin, many statues and other symbols were erected years after the Civil War had concluded, during a period of white “Lost Cause” nostalgia for the Confederacy, according to UT-Austin.
More statues were erected as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s took hold.
Since at least 1989, debate raged in editorials in UT-Austin’s alumni magazine, according to a 2015 report by a university task force that evaluated whether the statues should remain on campus.
That group assembled shortly after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. UT-Austin later announced it would move a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis to a museum.
At the time, Fenves said the other statues could stay because of the subjects’ connections to Texas. His statement on Sunday reversed that decision.
“We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus,” Fenves wrote in a letter explaining his decision. “As UT students return in the coming week, I look forward to welcoming them here for a new academic year with a recommitment to an open, positive and inclusive learning environment for all.”
Calls for removal
Texas joined the nationwide debate this month after the protests in Charlottesville, when some state lawmakers called for the removal of monuments, plaques and other memorials from the State Capitol in Austin.
In Houston, several hundred people turned out to demand removal of the Spirit of the Confederacy statue in Sam Houston Park over the weekend while a few dozen counter-protesters showed up to oppose their efforts.
And a Houston man was charged Monday with trying to plant explosives at the statue of Confederate officer Dick Dowling in Hermann Park, federal officials said.
Despite UT-Austin’s decision, A&M said the statue of Ross will remain in the Academic Plaza on campus.
Ross, a Confederate general, was a former A&M president and helped create Texas’ first public historically black university, Prairie View A&M University. Sul Ross University in Alpine is also named for him.
“Lawrence Sullivan ‘Sul’ Ross is honored on our campus as a former president of the school. Without Sul Ross, neither Texas A&M University nor Prairie View A&M University would likely exist today,” Young said in a statement. “He saved our school and Prairie View through his consistent advocacy in the face of those who persistently wanted to close us down.”
Alejandra Matos in Austin contributed to this report.
Houston News & Search