Are old statues the biggest problem facing Kentucky? Of course not.
But the debate over relocating and reinterpreting Confederate symbols is worth having. Without a clear view of where we've been — and an awareness that it was not just white males who got us here — we can't plot reliable paths for the future.
Kudos to Mayor Jim Gray, Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Historical Properties Advisory Commission for inviting reconsideration of historic symbols and their context. It would be better if one of the commission's 14 members were black; that none are also tells a story of how we got here.
Kudos to Sen. Mitch McConnell, who kicked off this debate in Kentucky by calling for removing the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda.
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Kudos to the Kentucky State Parks and Kentucky State Fair for ending sales of Confederate battle flags.
Some see knee-jerk political correctness in response to the homicidal white supremacist who posted photos of himself brandishing a Confederate flag. But even before the bloodbath in Charleston, the need for truth-telling about race had been building, ever since the first slave ship touched American shores, in fact.
What we're seeing, finally, is a recognition that many of our fellow citizens are hurt when we glorify a regime that was dedicated to perpetuating the enslavement of black people. We're also sending a warped message to thousands of school children who visit the Capitol.
Creating a more honest context for our monuments — whether it's in a museum or through more accurate narratives — is not a slippery slope or an attack on anyone's heritage.
History has always been reinterpreted. The Confederate monuments scattered across Kentucky are an example of revisionist history. Confederate President Davis didn't make his appearance in the rotunda until 1936.
The Confederate generals in Lexington's courthouse square went up in the early 20th century — 48 years after Abraham Lincoln ended the trading in human flesh, the cruelty and suffering of Cheapside's lucrative slave market.
The statue most accurately depicting Civil War Kentucky would be hungry people, black and white, after both armies had picked the state like a bone.
One of the motives behind Kentucky's belated romanticizing of its Confederate ties was pecuniary. Still considered the west, Kentucky after the Civil War was lawless. Meanwhile, the era's robber baron millionaires were starting racing stables and breeding farms in the Northeast, stirring competitive fears in the Bluegrass, as Maryjean Wall explains in How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders, published by The University Press of Kentucky.
To counter their reputation for violence, Kentuckians marketed the Bluegrass as a gentile seat of Southern chivalry's lost age. It was bull, but it worked.
Meanwhile, black jockeys, who had excelled at winning races, were excluded from the sport, as whites imposed slavery 2.0, the repression of Jim Crow.
Even in 1911, no armor of public reverence protected the Thunderbolt of the Confederacy, John Hunt Morgan, when his statue was dedicated in Lexington, judging from a ribald poem that was circulated on the occasion.
The sculptor had made Morgan's horse, Bess, a stallion. In that era's version of history, even the horse statues had to be all male.
William J. Hanna, 93, once an editor at this newspaper, provided us a copy of The Ballad of Black Bess by Anonymous which has 18 stanzas including (original spelling intact):
"At last the bunting falls away. And all now stands revealed. A gasp of horror sweeps the crowd at what had been concealed.
"For down the corridors of Time and up to Heaven's vestibules, Morgan fore'er will ride a mare equipped with a pair of testicules."
There's nothing sacrosanct about history, which, like almost everything else, is more interesting when you don't take yourself too seriously.