DYCHE | Kentucky: Ditch Jefferson Davis Statue - WDRB 41 Louisville News

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DYCHE | Kentucky: Ditch Jefferson Davis Statue

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

Imagine you are an African-American fifth-grader from Kentucky on a field trip to your state's beautiful state capitol building in Frankfort. Your class stands amidst five statues in the awe-inspiring rotunda.

Your teacher is talking. “Class, it is here, in the heart of our state government, that Kentucky honors some of its most famous and important citizens.”

She points to one of the four figures positioned around the room's perimeter. “That is Ephraim McDowell, a pioneering doctor who performed a difficult operation in Danville when it was still on the frontier.”

Your teacher turns to another of the sculptures. “That is Alben Barkley. He was the Senate Majority Leader when Franklin D. Roosevelt was President and was Vice President under Harry S. Truman, who integrated the United States military in the late 1940s.”

Someone asks what “integrate” means. You raise your hand and proudly explain that it means ending race discrimination so soldiers of different colors could serve together.

Motioning to another figure your teacher says, “That is Henry Clay. He was Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, and one of the greatest U.S. Senators. He is called ‘The Great Compromiser' because he helped hold the country together when slavery was tearing it apart.”

Your teacher gestures to the biggest statute in the center of the circular space. “Clay was also the hero of this man,” your teacher says, gesturing to the commanding image in the middle that everyone recognizes.

“Abraham Lincoln!” your classmates shout. “Yes,” responds your teacher. “The leader who freed the slaves and saved the Union was born in a little log cabin here in Kentucky. He may be the greatest President of all.”

You have a question. “Who is that?” you ask, pointing toward a white marble statue of a bearded man that stands behind Lincoln.

“That is Jefferson Davis,” your teacher answers. “Who was he?” several students ask.

The teacher looks a little uncomfortable. “He was the President of the Confederate States of America,” she says. “So he was the leader of the other side against President Lincoln in the Civil War.”

“So he fought against the Union and for slavery?” you ask. “Yes, he did,” your teacher answers.

“Why is he here? Why does Kentucky honor someone who wanted to keep my ancestors, and maybe even me, in slavery?” you timidly inquire.

“That's a good question,” your teacher says. “Kentucky has a law that Jefferson Davis Day a public holiday. There is also a state holiday for Robert E. Lee's birthday. He was the top Confederate general in the Civil War.”

You think, “Maybe those people who say that the government is still prejudiced against black people are right after all. Why else would it praise men who led the fight to protect slavery.”

The rest of the field trip is not much fun. When you hear talk about equal justice under law in the Supreme Court chambers you doubt it.

When you see the House and Senate chambers where laws are made you wonder why they honor Confederates when there must be other, better heroes. When you go by the Governor's office you wonder why he doesn't do something to get that racist rebel out of the rotunda.

You think about going into politics to change things. After all, America has an African-American as President.

But the experience mainly makes you mad. After all, there are always people in the news claiming that the system is not fair for people like you.

Perhaps nothing like this imaginary incident has ever happened. Perhaps something like it happens often. It certainly could happen, however, and the young person's questions and cynicism would be understandable.

I wrote my first column calling for removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda in 2003. Others from both sides of the political aisle have since also called for ousting Davis from the commonwealth's pantheon and replacing him with someone more inclusive and representative.

Maybe now, as South Carolina again debates the propriety of flying the Confederate battle flag at its Capitol in the wake of the horrific Charlestown killings perpetrated by an apparent neo-Confederate white supremacist, Kentucky will finally, and belatedly, act.

Controversy over an appropriate substitute should not delay the departure of Davis, perhaps to the Kentucky Military History Museum since he served as Secretary of War before secession. Surely we can agree on someone who will inspire our youth and better reflect values of which all Kentuckians can be proud.

(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)

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