Rally calls for Bevin to remove Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky Capitol
A long-running debate over the Davis monument was rekindled after white nationalists rallied this month in Charlottesville, Va., to oppose plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Betty Sue Griffin stood at a podium in the Kentucky state Capitol rotunda on Wednesday and made her case for taking down the 15-foot-tall statue across from her.
“This tribute to Jefferson Davis has reminded every African-American boy, girl, man and woman that entered these hallowed halls for the past 81 years that Kentucky honored and supported the institution of slavery,” said Griffin, who has served on an advisory council to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.
Then, to applause, she added: “It’s time for its retirement.”
The same message was echoed by a series of speakers during a rally organized by Kentucky African-American leaders who want the towering marble piece removed from its spot in the cavernous rotunda -- a popular place for public gatherings, tours and press conferences. Some have suggested moving it to a museum or history center.
The statue of the Confederacy’s lone president and native Kentuckian has stood there since 1936, funded with private donations and a $5,000 contribution from state government. A plaque describes Davis as a “PATRIOT – HERO - STATESMAN.”
But a long-running debate over the Davis monument was rekindled after white nationalists rallied this month in Charlottesville, Va., to oppose plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors.
There have been previous attempts to remove the Davis statue from the Capitol, including after the 2015 murders of nine people at a black church in South Carolina by a man who had been photographed holding a Confederate flag.
In July, a state committee agreed to provide additional historical context for the Davis statue and others in the rotunda, the Associated Press has reported.
But last week a group of African-American leaders asked Gov. Matt Bevin to remove the Davis statue from the rotunda, arguing in a letter to the governor that those changes still “will not address the ugly racist symbolism the statue projects in the face of African-American history. It glorifies the Confederacy and represents the Jim Crow South. It was unveiled at a time when segregation, violence, and racial injustice permeated communities around Kentucky.’
The letter calls the Davis statue a symbol of “bigotry, injustice, and a failed ideology.”
It was signed by 11 people, including the state’s seven black members of the Senate and House of Representatives, all of whom are Democrats; Raoul Cunningham, president of the Kentucky NAACP; Gerald L. Smith, chair of the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission; and John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
Bevin’s office has not responded to a request for comment left Wednesday morning.
During his successful 2015 campaign for governor, Bevin said he was in favor of removing the Davis statue from the state Capitol. “It is important never to forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property,” he told The Hill.
Earlier this month, Bevin called removing Confederate symbols and monuments from government property the “sanitization of history” and said he "absolutely" disagrees with such actions.
Bevin later told WDRB that he supports community conversations about the future of Confederate monuments, but warned against moving too quickly.
"That, to me, is ultimately the most critical thing to remember, is that we've got to remember where we came from," he said.
The push to remove the Davis statue has gotten bipartisan support. Republicans Allison Ball, the Kentucky state treasurer, and state Senator Wil Schroeder are among those who have publicly said they support taking down the monument.
Kentucky state Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said during Wednesday’s rally that he would file legislation in the 2018 General Assembly forcing the statue to be moved if it’s still standing when lawmakers convene next January.
Neal said the arguments in favor of the Davis statue deserving a place in the rotunda “rest upon a bed of twigs with no firm foundation. Selective history that is so proudly presented – the sanitized version – is transparently weak.”
At least one person appeared at the rally in support of the statue. Joseph Springer of Louisville, who wore a shirt with a Confederate flag on it, told reporters that he is against “sanitizing history.”
“Some of us just respect our ancestors,” he said. “And whether you agree with what they fought for or not, they still fought hard for what they believed in.”
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.