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Kentucky Governor Against Removing Confederate Symbols

Kentucky Historical Society

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says he "absolutely" disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments from government property, calling it the "sanitization of history."

"If we don't want to repeat the mistakes of our past, then we better teach it to our young people," Bevin said. "It better be known. It doesn't have to be celebrated, as in that this was something we did and we should do again." He suggested it's the wrong approach "to pretend it didn't happen, to remove from society -- because where do you draw the line?"

Bevin's comments come as state and local government leaders across the country consider removing Confederate symbols following violent protests at a weekend white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people died.

Tuesday, the mayor of Kentucky's second-largest city will ask local leaders to take the first step toward removing two Confederate statues from prominent spots in the city. But Bevin said removing such symbols would be "dangerous" because it would encourage people to "pretend it didn't happen."

In 2015, when Bevin was the Republican nominee for governor, he said it would be appropriate for state officials to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the state's Capitol. At the time, Bevin's comments came less than a week after the racially-motivated killings of nine people at a South Carolina church.

"It is important never to forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property," Bevin said at the time.

Bevin's communications office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Kentucky's Capitol rotunda includes five statutes of native Kentuckians, including former President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the emancipation proclamation, and Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy. A plaque on Davis' statue identifies him as a "patriot - hero - statesman." The statue, unveiled in 1936, was erected by the state with the help of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

In 2015, Bevin joined U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers in saying the Davis' statue should be removed from the Capitol. The statue is governed by the Historic Properties Advisory Commission. Steve Beshear, who was then Kentucky's Democratic governor, asked the commission to consider moving the statue.

The commission decided to keep the statue in 2015, but to provide more historical context for it. Last month, nearly two years after making that decision, the commission created a committee to decide the best way of "providing a good interpretation" for all of the statues in the rotunda, including Davis.

The leader of the Kentucky NAACP said this week the organization will step up its efforts to have the Davis statue removed.

Other Kentucky cities are taking action to remove their confederate symbols. Last year, Louisville officials removed a Confederate monument near the University of Louisville and relocated it to Brandenburg, about 40 miles away.

And Tuesday, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said he will ask the city council to take the first step in removing two Confederate memorials to Confederate officers John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan.

Bevin told WVHU radio that what happened in Charlottesville was "disgusting" and "heartbreaking," but that local officials could have handled it better.

"The fact that people were allowed to clash with one another as they were in Virginia, that people were encouraged to come in and counter protest and be just as violent and angry as the hateful people that came in the first place, people knew what was going to happen," Bevin said.

He said a similar white supremacist rally in eastern Kentucky in April did not erupt in violence, noting the state did not encourage or discourage counter protests and "we made sure that everybody was kept separate."

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