Copious Notes

Gray tells HBO’s ‘Vice News’ city had to respond to Confederate statue issue

"Vice News Tonight" reporter Antonia Hylton interviews Lexington Mayor Jim Gray about Confederate monuments in the episode shown Aug. 17, 2017 on HBO.
"Vice News Tonight" reporter Antonia Hylton interviews Lexington Mayor Jim Gray about Confederate monuments in the episode shown Aug. 17, 2017 on HBO. rcopley@herald-leader.com

As Lexington leaders and the public gathered Thursday to consider moving two Confederate statues, Mayor Jim Gray and the city were on several national and international media outlets, including “PBS NewsHour,” the BBC and HBO’s “Vice News Tonight.”

“Vice News” stormed into the national media spotlight early this week with a 22-minute documentary from last Saturday’s violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The report by correspondent Elle Reeve, which included extended interviews with white nationalist leaders, has been seen by more than 36 million viewers online and on TV.

The overflow crowd inside Lexington city hall erupted in cheers after the Urban County Council voted unanimously to move two Confederate statues from the old courthouse downtown.

Thursday night, “Vice News” turned its cameras to Lexington, with a segment by reporter Antonia Hylton, which started by mentioning the council vote Thursday and that the controversy over statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge in front of the former Fayette County Courthouse had been simmering for two years.

“We met here, and we began discussing our response, because we knew that a response was really necessary,” Gray said to Hylton, when she asked about his office’s reaction to the Charlottesville situation.

Gray explained the history of Cheapside, where the statues stand, as one of the largest slave auction sites in the South before the Civil War. “What you have is two Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery, on the same ground as men, women and children who were sold into slavery,” Gray said. “I looked at that, others looked at that, and said, ‘This just is not right.’”

Mayor Jim Gray spoke to members of the city council and the public in a session Tuesday that saw the city officials unanimously agree to move forward in efforts to relocate two statues currently at the former Fayette County Courthouse.

The “Vice News” segment included an interview with two men who are part of a group called The Hiwaymen, which is trying to preserve Confederate monuments. Hylton said they were in Charlottesville, Saturday.

“I say, leave the monuments where they be,” said Hiwaymen member James Del Brock, who had a Confederate battle flag in the band of his cap. “If someone wants to put up a monument of an African man, there’s a spot right there. Put it right there,” he said, pointing to open space next to the Breckenridge statue.

The men rejected the suggestion that the monuments represented white supremacy and said removing them would start a slippery slope to other monuments being removed.

Hylton noted, “the debate among people in Lexington has been civil,” and showed footage from Tuesday’s council work session, where the council heard from Lexington citizens on the issue.

“I don’t think what I’m doing is anything unusual,” Gray said. “It just happens to be, it’s on my watch, and sometimes, that’s just where it lands.”

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