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Five years on, what does Lexington's removal of Confederate statues mean for the city?

Taking Back Cheapside documentary

Monday marks five years since Lexington removed a pair of Confederate statues from downtown, leading to a transformation of a former slave-trading market site, but the controversy now appears more like a prelude than a final chapter.

Following years of community debate, the removal of twin Confederate statues long overlooking the street adjacent to the city’s old courthouse happened with little advance notice – following an opinion by then-Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Within hours, the controversial statues were being hoisted off their pillars and a crowd had gathered downtown to watch history unfold. Rachel – she requested we only use her first name – was among those cheering.

"I'm just blown away really," she said. "I think it says that Lexington is willing to move forward despite any opposition they might face."

And opposition was a major concern, with a white nationalist group threatening a Charlottesville-style rally that never materialized. Yet the event did lead to death threats against leaders of the Take Back Cheapside movement, which included WUKY’s DeBraun Thomas.

Read a Lexington Herald Leader op-ed reflecting on the statues' removal by DeBraun Thomas

The removal of the monuments paved the way for a transformation of Cheapside, once a slave-trading hub of the region, into Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park, named after a freed slave who moved to Lexington and helped form the company that would build the old courthouse.

But the events also highlighted long-standing racial divisions and that would later resurface during the 2020 racial justice protests – unhealed wounds that remain at the center of an ongoing reckoning in American culture.

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.