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Panel To Write Historical Context For Davis Statue

Kentucky Historical Society

State officials say they will offer more historical context for a 15-foot marble statue of Jefferson Davis in the Kentucky Capitol that refers to the only president of the Confederacy as a "patriot, hero, statesman."

The Historic Properties Advisory Commission appointed a seven-member committee Thursday to find the best way of "providing a good interpretation" for the statutes in the rotunda, according to chairman Craig Potts. The rotunda includes five large statues, including former president Abraham Lincoln and Davis, who were both born in Kentucky.

"We want to make sure we are doing good history, providing an accurate representation of the art that is there and the representations that are there," Potts said. "It's too early to say specifically what that interpretation will look like."

The commission appointed the committee nearly two years after it rejected an idea to remove the statue following the racially-charged killings at an African-American church in South Carolina. Those murders prompted a re-evaluation of Confederate monuments and symbols across the country because of the Confederacy's support of enslaving African-Americans.

At the time, the commission received more than 3,000 public comments, with more than half asking for the statue to stay. Commission members opted to keep the Davis statue because, coupled with the statue of Lincoln, they said it offered a testimony of the state's divided history during and after the Civil War.

As a compromise, the commission decided to appoint a committee to provide more historical context for the statues. But the committee was not appointed until Thursday, nearly two years later.

The committee will include two African-Americans: John Hardin, a professor of African American studies at Western Kentucky University, and Ron Sydnor, manager of the Jefferson Davis Historic Site in Fairview, Kentucky. Sydnor is on leave from the site and a phone number listed for him had been disconnected. In an email, Hardin said he was in a meeting on Thursday and would not be able to discuss his role on the committee until next week.

Kentucky has a complex history with Davis and the Confederacy. The state never left the union during the Civil War, but Confederate sympathizers attempted to set up a "shadow" government in Bowling Green that was eventually expelled. Davis was not welcome in his home state.

Since then, Davis has been honored throughout the state. In 1924, a brigade of Confederate veterans from Kentucky raised about $200,000 to honor Davis in his hometown by building a 351-foot-tall obelisk similar to the Washington Monument. In 1936, state officials unveiled the Jefferson Davis statue in the state Capitol Rotunda in cooperation with the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The committee also includes Steve Collins, the chairman of the Historic Property Advisory Commission. He said the committee hopes to have its first meeting in September. Asked if the "historical context" for the statue will include the Confederacy's support of slavery, Collins said: "I suspect that will be discussed."

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