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Commission Keeps Jefferson Davis Statue, Pending Educational Changes

Josh James
The Historic Properties Advisory Commission discusses the placement of a statue depicting Confederate President Jefferson Davis

The state Historical Properties Advisory Commission has voted to keep a controversial statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in place in the Capitol Rotunda while developing new education materials to accompany it.

Much of Wednesday's discussion centered on defining the purpose of the Rotunda space and whether the monument amounts to an honoring or endorsement of Davis. Commission chair Steve Collins, who voted to retain the likeness in heart of the Capitol, told reporters the Lincoln and Davis statues point to an important historical tension.

"The fact that the president of the United States and the president of the Confederacy were born in Kentucky, even though they moved to other places, illustrates this dichotomy, illustrates the division that many Kentucky families felt, many Kentucky communities felt, and continue to feel," he said.

But Raoul Cunningham with the Kentucky NAACP finds flaws in that reasoning, adding, "I agree that there needs to be education, but I don't think you need a statue of Hitler in the State Capitol to discuss the ills of Nazism or the Holocaust. You don't need a statue to discuss what history should be or educational values."

Of the roughly 3,000 comments the commission received about 1,800 supported maintaining the statute while 1,225 urged members to find another location or do away with the monument.

Next on the commission's docket will be appointing a committee to craft new educational materials to place in the Rotunda. No timeline has been set.

Credit Associated Press

Shifting Fronts

Though the commission made its call Wednesday, the debate is unlikely to end there. While the statues and their placement fall under the jurisdiction of the commission, Cunningham says the battle could shift to the legislature.

"We will evaluate and make a decision if we will go to the General Assembly to get a state statute to get it removed," he says. "We are encouraged that both candidates for governor have indicated that they would support removing. So I don't think the issue is over."

As for whether it’s possible to override the commission’s vote, Chairman Collins suggests there are multiple ways, saying, "You certainly have legislation, you have executive orders, and you have judicial decisions and orders. And they would supersede anything that's done by a commission."

Prior to voting, commissioners reviewed a number of comments on the statue from lawmakers, churches, historians, organizations, and citizens.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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