Fayette County

Donors contacting Lexington to get Confederate statues moved, Mayor Jim Gray says

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray explains decision to move Confederate statues

The statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge stand on the same ground in Lexington that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.
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The statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge stand on the same ground in Lexington that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said Sunday the city has already received offers from people willing to donate money to pay to move two Confederate statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse on Main Street. Those offers come just one day after Gray announced he wants to move the controversial statues.

“I do expect that some of it will be donated,” Gray said of the unknown cost to move the statues of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan. “Several people have already asked how they can donate.”

Gray offered more details Sunday in a video and in an interview on his decision to move the statues from the former Fayette County courthouse lawn. Gray has said he was planning to ask the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council on Tuesday to support a petition asking the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission to approve moving the statues to Veterans Park in southeast Lexington.

As public officials we need to stand up and speak out against hatred, bigotry and violence.

Mayor Jim Gray

But Gray said he decided to move up his announcement to Saturday, the same day multiple people were killed and injured in Virginia after a vehicle drove into counter-protesters who had clashed with white nationalists around a Confederate-era statue in Charlottesville.

Gray said he felt the need to condemn the violence and said he doesn’t believe his announcement will cause the same unrest as in Charlottesville. Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard said the city stepped up patrols around the statues over the weekend.

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The John Hunt Morgan statue on the lawn of the old Fayette Co. Courthouse on West Main St. in Lexington. Charles Bertram Herald-Leader

“We had already prepared for this announcement,” Gray said. “Preceding with it is the right thing to do. As public officials we need to stand up and speak out against hatred, bigotry and violence.”

Gray said the two statues will join a new war memorial that will include memorials for the Vietnam and Korean wars. That memorial walk is already under construction in Veterans Park behind the parking lot for the baseball diamond. In a video released Sunday, Gray said two memorials to the Union will also be added to the statues of Breckinridge and Hunt Morgan.

In an interview later Sunday, Gray said what those two Union memorials will look like or if they will be of Union soldiers has not yet been decided.

“It’s something that we still have plenty of time to get input on,” Gray said.

It’s just not right for us to continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground that men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery.

Mayor Jim Gray

The Urban County Council will be asked Tuesday to vote to put the city’s petition to have the statues moved on its docket for its Thursday night meeting. Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer, said Sunday if the council approves the petition they will ask the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission for a specially-called meeting in September to consider the city’s petition. Moving the statutes without the commission’s approval is a felony.

Hamilton said the city would like to have the statues moved before an overhaul and renovation of the former Fayette County courthouse is completed. The renovated courthouse will include VisitLex, the city’s visitor’s center, restaurant and office space. That construction will likely be completed by early 2018. Moving the statues in winter will also be difficult.

In a video posted to his social media accounts on Sunday, Gray said he made his decision after listening to both sides.

History is important to Lexington, he said. But history should also be accurate. The statues of Hunt Morgan — a Confederate general — and Breckinridge — the last Confederate Secretary of War — also stand on the same ground that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South, Gray said.

“It’s just not right for us to continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground that men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery,” Gray said.

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The John Breckinridge statue in Cheapside park next to the former Fayette County Courthouse on West main at North Upper St. in Lexington. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Gray’s own family history show the deep divisions in Kentucky during the Civil War.

Gray had two great-great uncles who fought for the Union at the battle of Shiloh. A third great uncle and brother of the two Union soldiers fought for the Confederacy.

Kentucky declared itself neutral at the beginning of the war. After a failed attempt by Confederate forces to take the state, the state legislature asked the Union Army for help. By 1862, the state was largely under Union control.

According to a National Register of Historic Places inventory of Kentucky’s Civil War monuments, of the state’s 62 monuments only seven — or less than 10 percent — depict Union soldiers.

100,000More than 100,000 men from Kentucky enlisted in the Union Army, while only 25,000 to 40,000 enlisted in the Confederate Army, historical records show.

Yet, more Kentuckians fought for the Union than the Confederacy, records show.

More than 100,000 men from Kentucky enlisted in the Union Army, while only 25,000 to 40,000 enlisted in the Confederate Army, historical records show.

Gray said Sunday he also felt that the state and Fayette County’s Union roots should also be represented. That’s why he recommended adding the two Union monuments.

The Lexington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a statement Sunday applauding Gray’s decision.

“The Lexington NAACP will stand alongside the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government in support of their petition to the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission for removal,” the local NAACP chapter said in a statement.

The chairwoman of an arts review board that recommended the two statues be removed from the former courthouse square in 2015 also applauded the move. The Urban County Arts Review Board voted in November 2015 to remove both statues after being tasked with examining the issue by Gray.

“While we are disappointed that this didn’t happen sooner, we are more convinced than ever that removing the statues is the right thing to do,” said Georgia Henkel, chairwoman of the arts review board. “Given the forward movement of New Orleans, Louisville and Charlottesville, we owe it to all citizens of our community to recognize the authentic history of Cheapside Park.”

A historic marker that detailed Lexington’s slave history that was taken down in 2015 due to vandalism will return when the renovation of the courthouse is completed, city officials said Sunday.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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