© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Removal of statues in Kentucky Capitol Rotunda would require legislative approval under House bill

A view of the Capitol Rotunda on February 15, 2024. Four statues currently stand in the heart of the Capitol.
Josh James
A view of the Capitol Rotunda on February 15, 2024. Four statues currently stand in the heart of the Capitol.

Permanent statues or artwork in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda could not be removed or added to without full legislative approval under a bill now on its way to the House floor.

Under current law, decisions on the addition or removal of statues in the Rotunda — a space at the heart of the Kentucky Capitol — go through the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission. House Bill 513 would give final say to the General Assembly.

In 2020, the commission voted to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. HB 513 sponsor, Republican David Hale, maintains his bill is unrelated to that decision and would not pave the way for efforts to reinstate the Davis statue. But the lawmaker acknowledges he has heard from constituents concerned about possible efforts to remove existing statues in the space.

"I have had attention brought to me concerning two, two of the four that are there," he says.

Hale wouldn't specify which two.

The likenesses in the Rotunda include statues of statesman Henry Clay, former vice president Alben Barkley, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, sometimes called the "father of modern surgery," and a larger statue of President Abraham Lincoln anchoring the center.

Hale says he doesn't believe his bill would further politicize issues surrounding public art.

"What I think is does is it really brings the voice back to the people instead of a six-member commission," the legislator says.

But Democratic House leader Derrick Graham said he's more comfortable leaving the decisions in the hands of the current panel.

"I would hope that we would put these kinds of things in the hands of those individuals who serve on the committee, who are appointed by the governor, who are well-known and well-regarded in regard to the history of the commonwealth, whether it's north, south, east, or west," Graham argued.

Under the bill, the commission would retain the ability to regulate other prominent historical sites in Frankfort. It would also be able to submit proposals regarding changes in the Rotunda.

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.