By Jim Forsyth and Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Statues of three Confederate leaders standing for decades at the University of Texas were vandalized with red paint amid fresh calls this week for their removal, university officials said.
The statues at the often left-leaning university in Austin, a liberal city in conservative Texas, have gained new attention due to the debate in South Carolina about taking down the Confederate battle flag on the state's capitol grounds, a week after a white gunman allegedly shot dead nine black worshipers at a historic church.
The statues that were vandalized overnight Tuesday were those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Texas Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston. Each had "Black Lives Matter" painted on their bases while the Davis statue also had "Dump the Chumps" painted on it, a university spokeswoman said.
University President Gregory Fenves met student leaders about the statues on Monday and is "working together to forge a process for the university to review the request to take (them)down," the university said.
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, said the day has come for Confederate monuments to be removed from public places.
"People feel that it is time to put it in the past. We understand it is part of this country's history but the proper place for that is in a museum, and not on a public university campus," he told Reuters.
The campus has several monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders in large part due to a wealthy benefactor named George Washington Littlefield, who fought in the Civil War with Terry's Texas Rangers.
He donated money to the university on the stipulation that the Southern heritage of Texas be preserved.
In Texas and other former Confederate states, there are numerous monuments and places named after Confederate leaders.
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing by Bill Trott)