A group that formed two years ago to push for the removal of two Confederate statues from downtown Lexington put pressure Monday on the board of the Lexington Cemetery to take the statues.
“We all feel this is the most appropriate place for them to go,” said DeBraun Thomas of Take Back Cheapside.
Russell Allen, one of the co-founders of the group, said the Lexington Cemetery united the community after the Civil War by burying both Confederate and Union soldiers. The cemetery now has the same opportunity more than 150 years later, he said.
“More than 1,000 soldiers, white, black, Confederate and Union, would all be laid to rest within the peaceful grounds of the Lexington Cemetery,” Allen said. “Many have pointed out that the Lexington Cemetery and its board never sought the role of peacemaker in our city’s drama and that’s true. But the messy history of this place that we call home doesn’t ask for our permission. The board members overseeing the Lexington Cemetery have an opportunity to unite us.”
Take Back Cheapside has led grass-roots efforts to remove the statues from an area known as Cheapside around the former Fayette County Courthouse after the city’s arts review board recommended their removal in 2015. Cheapside was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.
Thomas is expected to attend an afternoon board meeting of the Lexington Cemetery, which is expected to vote Monday on whether to accept the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president and Confederate Secretary of War. Breckinridge and Hunt Morgan are both buried at the cemetery, which has a Confederate burial section.
The Lexington council voted unanimously last month to remove the statues, giving Lexington Mayor Jim Gray 30 days to return to the council with a new location for them. That deadline is Thursday. The city has not said if it has an alternate plan if the Lexington Cemetery declines the statues.
Without an appropriate home for the two statues, it’s unlikely the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission will approve removing them from Main Street. The statues have been under the control of the five-member commission since 2004. It oversees 27 statues, memorials or battlefields in the state.
In a letter dated Sept. 9, Gray told the board the statues would come with an endowment for upkeep, maintenance and security. To date, that fundraising effort has received pledges of $100,000.
Officials with the Lexington Cemetery have declined to comment. It’s not known how the board will vote on the city’s request.