In late August 2015, UT president Gregory Fenves decided to relocate Pompeo Coppini’s statue of Jefferson Davis from the South Mall of the campus to the Briscoe Center for placement in an educational exhibit. This April, the center unveiled the Davis statue in From Commemoration to Education. But that’s not the end of the story. Reacting to the disturbing events in Charlottesville in August, President Fenves decided to remove UT’s remaining Confederate statues from the South Mall.
Those statues will become part of the center’s artifact collection; however, we have no plans to put them on public display. Instead, we will formulate a policy to make them available to scholars on a by-appointment basis. We’re also looking into ways we can digitize the statues through 3-D scanning. In the meantime, we’ve extended the Davis statue exhibit (in its expanded form) through the rest of the semester.
The current controversy surrounding Confederate symbolism has drawn attention to the Davis statue exhibit, and for good reason. UT is one of the few institutions that has fully gone through the process of relocating a Confederate symbol from a public place of honor to an educational setting. In addition to positive press coverage, interest in the exhibit was high at the American Association for State and Local History’s annual conference earlier this month. During the conference, the center hosted a walking tour of campus statuary, participated in a workshop about controversial public monuments, hosted a welcome event for attendees, and extended its opening hours to accommodate extra visitors.
We received lots of encouraging feedback about how the Davis statue exhibit can provide a model for other institutions grappling with similar issues. Particularly pleasing was the feedback I received from Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I was grateful to meet with Director Bunch at AASLH and discuss ways in which the center can partner with the Smithsonian on future exhibits and programs beginning in 2018.
As for the remainder of 2017, the center once again has a full plate of programming and announcements planned. As you can see from this issue of the e-news, the center has just launched the Clements Texas Papers Project and is preparing to unveil Dan Rather: American Journalist at a symposium in October. The center’s inaugural main exhibit, Exploring the American South, has now concluded. It will be replaced in November with Struggle for Justice, which will document forty years of civil rights photography with images drawn from the center’s extensive photographic collections. We’ll also publish three new books this fall, including A War Remembered with the UT Press.
Finally, I’m pleased to announce we’ve begun a partnership with C-SPAN to publicize the center’s photojournalism collections. In 2013—in celebration of our News to History: Photojournalism and the President exhibit—we video-recorded a series of extensive oral history interviews with photojournalists who have donated their collections to the center. C-SPAN is currently screening edited versions of these interviews weekly. Those with Frank Johnston and Eric Draper have already been screened, and are now available online. Interviews with Darryl Heikes, Lucian Perkins, David Valdez and Diana Walker will air on subsequent Sundays at 6pm and 10pm CT. For more information visit the series page.
In our October, November and December e-newsletters we’ll be announcing major new acquisitions including the papers of noted reporters and photographers, as well as additions to the center’s material culture collections. Thank you for your continued support of the Briscoe Center. We look forward to seeing you this fall.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History