Duke Removes Robert E. Lee Statue After Vandalism, Others Follow Suit

Both Duke and UT Austin have removed its statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general at the forefront of recent violence and protests.
Published: August 21, 2017

In the midst of countrywide outcry for the removal of Confederate monuments, Duke University has removed the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the leader of the pro-slavery Confederate army, from the entrance of its chapel just a few days after it was vandalized.

The statue was removed before dawn Saturday morning, according to a press release sent to the campus community from the university president, Vincent Price. He says he consulted with faculty, staff, students and alumni before making the final decision, reports The Washington Post.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Price said in his press release.

The statue was discovered Thursday morning with a damaged face and part of the nose missing. Security had been increased around the chapel following the defacement and security footage is being reviewed, according to Duke Today.

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Price had released an earlier statement following the vandalism, stating, “For an individual or group of individuals to take matters into their own hands and vandalize a house of worship undermines the right, protected in our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, of every Duke student and employee to participate fully in university life.”

What Will Duke Do with the Statue?

As for the future of the removed statue, it will be preserved so that students “can study Duke’s complex past and take part in a more inclusive future,” says Price.

The statue is one of 10 historical figures which ornament the outside of the chapel. The historical statues include Thomas Coke, Francis Asbury and George Whitefield, who are credited with bringing Methodism to the United States; John Wesley, the founder of Methodism; Martin Luther, a leader in the Protestant Reformation; John Wycliffe, an English theologian who translated the Bible into English; Girolamo Savonarola, an Italian Dominican 15th-century friar and firebrand preacher; Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia; and Sidney Lanier, a poet and musician.

Duke plans to form a committee, made up of faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and Durham community members, to advise on how the school should memorialize historical figures on campus in the future.

Price also says that the school will use the removal of the monument to create several learning experiences for students.

“In addition, and in concert with Provost Sally Kornbluth, we will use the next year to explore various aspects of Duke’s history and ambitions through teaching and scholarship. This will include an exhibition in the Library; a campus conversation about controversy and injustice in Duke’s history; and a forum to explore academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in the university.”

UT Austin Removes 4 Statues

The University of Texas at Austin also removed three Confederate-era statues from its campus on Monday, saying they were symbols of white supremacy and were taken down overnight in order to avoid hostilities, reports Reuters.

The statues were depictions of Lee, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, and Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan.

The school’s president, Greg Fenves, made an announcement shortly before midnight on Sunday that the statues were going to be removed.

By 3 a.m., the statues were gone, according to Cindy Posey, director of campus safety communications.

The statues were moved to the school’s Briscoe Center for American History and will be accessible for academic study.

Also removed from the campus was a statue of former Governor James Stephen Hogg who led Texas after the Civil War from 1891 to 1895. This particular statue may be reinstalled at another spot on campus, according to Fenves.

“Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation,” said Fenves. “These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

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