The board of the Lexington Cemetery has tentatively agreed to take two controversial Confederate statues that have stood in downtown Lexington for more than 130 years.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced the board’s decision on Monday afternoon after he, Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard, Rev. C.B. Akins Sr., and DeBraun Thomas of Take Back Cheapside attended the Monday meeting. The board and cemetery staff did not speak to the media Monday. The Lexington Cemetery is a private nonprofit and it’s meetings are not open to the public.
“Today the Lexington Cemetery trustees have stepped up for this city,” Gray said.
Gray said Monday that the two sides still need to hammer out the legal details about moving the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, a U.S. Vice President and Confederate Secretary of War, to the cemetery.
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Both men are buried at the cemetery.
The cemetery board’s vote to take the statues is just the first of many steps before the statues can be moved.
“This is about our city standing up and doing something that we could not do 130 years ago,” Thomas said. “While we are very, very close to where we want to be, we are not there yet. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
The Lexington council voted unanimously last month to remove the statues, giving Gray 30 days to return to the council with a new location for them. That deadline is Thursday.
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. The city is still accepting donations for the endowment, the total amount pledged is not yet known.
Before the Lexington Cemetery board’s vote, a group that pushed for the removal of the two statues held a press conference to ask the cemetery board to take the two statues.
Lexington Cemetery decided during the Civil War to bury both Confederate and Union soldiers on its grounds. The cemetery has long been a unifying body in Lexington, said Russell Allen, one of the organizers of Take Back Cheapside.
The cemetery board could help the city once again by taking the two statues.
“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,” Allen said. “ 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.”