If we could change history, I probably would have picked Poland over Germany and given Custer the edge. Alas, we must make do with what we have. That is why students at The University of Texas at Austin — henceforth known as The (The is part of the name) University or UT — should leave poor Jefferson Davis where he is, or at least keep him on campus. After all, if it weren’t for Davis, UT would be trying to catch up to Texas A&M instead of the other way around.
In case you missed it, there is a movement by some Longhorns to remove a statue of Davis from the South Mall of the Forty Acres. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of the Student Government adopted a resolution in March supporting his ouster. Someone using blue chalk wrote “chump” on the statue’s base with an arrow pointing up to Davis. Then a few weeks ago someone wrote. “Davis must fall” and “Emancipate UT.” Students, keep rewriting history: drain Littlefield Fountain. George Littlefield gave more money than any other single individual to the university, including funds for the fountain and Littlefield Dorm. Years before, he was a member of Company I, Eighth Texas Cavalry, Confederate Army.
The midnight graffiti artists probably would not have been so bold dealing with the original. Davis was a West Point graduate, spent more than eight years as an officer in the army and was cited for bravery in a saber fight during the Mexican-American War. He had come through Texas during that conflict and kept an admiration for Texans. Years later, at the start of the Civil War, when the first companies of Texas soldiers reached Richmond, Va., by-then-Confederate President Davis greeted them by declaring, “Texans! The troops of other states have their reputations to gain, but the sons of the defenders of the Alamo have theirs to maintain.”
This is not the first time there was a movement to oust Davis. In 1991 a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature by Rep. Sam Hudson to remove Davis’ statue from the UT campus. Hudson wanted the statue either destroyed or put in storage. Hudson, an African-American, said the statue “is an abrasive reference to slavery.” The Legislators didn’t have to walk those blocks to the UT campus to see reminders of the Confederacy. They could look out their office windows. The Capitol grounds have more monuments to Texas’ role in the War Between the States than to anything else. Let’s rename Jeff Davis County, the Davis Mountains, several hospitals and vast numbers of schools.
If we remove Davis from our thoughts and history, we had better do the same to Robert E. Lee, who spent more time soldering in Texas than in the Confederate Army. Then there are Albert Sidney Johnston, Dick Dowling, Ashbel Smith, John Reagan, John Bell Hood, and Sul Ross, great president of Texas A&M. The Aggies even have a big statue of him prominently displayed on campus. Uh, but that is General Sul Ross, formerly of the Confederate Army. And what do we do about Sul Ross University?
The list of Texans who wore gray is long, mainly because we sent a higher percentage of our men off to war than did any other state, north and south. But we must not stop here. Sam Houston beat the Mexican Army. Perhaps that is unsettling to some whose ancestors fought for Santa Anna. Mirabeau B. Lamar hated Indians and had as many killed as he could. Scratch Lamar University. Scratch Fort Hood. Ditto for Dowling Street. There are more than 1,000 sites in the state that memorialize the Confederacy. Actually, just to play it safe, we may wind up naming our cities after vegetables and our schools after rocks.
Six flags flew over Texas. All six, like the statue of Jefferson Davis, stand on the UT campus and not just among the trees on the South Mall. Check out the Longhorns’ football stadium. Six seals of six governments are on the floor of the Capitol rotunda. Forget the blue chalk. We need a jackhammer. One of those flags and seals represents the France of Louis XIV. He was a despot, a tyrant, who lived in opulence while his people starved. Remembering him does not mean we like him. Another flag, another seal, is that of Spain. The Spanish flag flew over Texas longer than all the others combined. It was the Spain of Torquemada. Are we to say this means we approved of the Inquisition? Mexico’s flag marched with Santa Anna as he butchered his way across Texas. Should it come down? And there is the Lone Star flag. The Republic of Texas had monumental problems. We are still working on them.
Getting back to Jefferson Davis, when the Confederacy collapsed in the spring of 1865, Davis sought to escape across the South and into – guess where? — Texas. However, he was captured, imprisoned and kept in leg irons, so getting your pedestal marked in blue chalk doesn’t seem so bad. After Reconstruction, a movement was launched in Dallas to purchase a homestead for Davis and invite him to move to Texas.
He actually did visit Texas with his wife and spent the night in Houston on May 10, 1875, after being greeted by a huge crowd of his old soldiers. Apparently the Davises took a train ride to College Station to look it over, and on June 14, 1875, Davis was offered the presidency of the newly established Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. When he declined the appointment on July 8, 1875, he wrote of his hopes of revisiting Texas. What if Davis had taken the job? He knew how to lead, organize and make a lot out of a little. A&M may have long surpassed that upstart in Austin – A&M is our oldest public university. Maybe Davis could have started an Aggie tradition to keep Johnny Football sober: leg irons.
Ashby is statuesque at firstname.lastname@example.org