The University of Texas at Austin removed four statues tied to the Confederacy from its campus on Monday, saying they had become symbols of white supremacy at a time of protests and fierce debate about race and the legacy of America’s Civil War.
White nationalists rallied earlier this month against proposals to take down a similar statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one woman was killed when a man crashed his car into a crowd of anti-racism counterprotesters.
The violence triggered the biggest domestic crisis yet for President Donald Trump, who provoked anger across the political spectrum for not immediately condemning white nationalists and for praising “very fine people” on both sides of the fight.
The president of the University of Texas at Austin, Greg Fenves, said that the “horrific displays of hatred” on show in Virginia had shocked and saddened the nation.
“These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” Fenves said on Sunday in a statement.
A growing number of U.S. political leaders have called for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy. Civil rights activists charge that they promote racism while advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.
In Baltimore on Monday, authorities were investigating reports of vandalism at a 225-year-old monument to explorer Christopher Columbus, a police spokesman said.
A video posted online appeared to show two hooded figures striking the obelisk’s base with a sledgehammer after taping to it a sign that read: “The future is racial and economic justice.”
There are about 700 monuments to the Confederacy in public spaces across the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with the majority of them erected early in the 20th century amid a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.
Among the four statues removed overnight at the University at Austin was one of General Robert E. Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy’s army during the Civil War. Fenves said it will be placed in the school’s Briscoe Center for American History and made available for scholarly study.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said on Twitter on Monday: “Putting these statues in a history museum appropriately puts this past where it belongs.”