Fayette County

Supporters of moving Confederate statues urged to ‘go full throttle’ at council meeting

Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks at Lexington vigil honoring Charlottesville's victims

The Kentucky secretary of state spoke Monday night in downtown Lexington. Video by Matt Goins
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The Kentucky secretary of state spoke Monday night in downtown Lexington. Video by Matt Goins

A group that wants two Confederate-era statues removed from the former Fayette County courthouse lawn is asking supporters to pack the room Tuesday when the Lexington council considers a proposal to move them to Veterans Park.

Meanwhile, some neighbors close to Veterans Park off Tates Creek Road are concerned that relocating the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge will only move the controversy surrounding the statues from downtown to southeast Lexington.

Lexington officials said it’s not yet clear how many supporters or protesters of the plan to move the statues will attend the 3 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

“We think it will be a full house,” said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city. “We are planning to have overflow seating.”

DeBraun Thomas, who helped found Take Back Cheapside, a group that has pushed for removal of the statues for nearly two years, said he applauded Mayor Jim Gray’s decision to recommend moving the statues. Still, Tuesday’s council meeting is only the first of many steps, he said.

“We are encouraging people to call their city council members and to come to the council meeting,” Thomas said. “There is no time for congratulations. We have take a deep breath and go full throttle. The work is just beginning.”

Thomas said he is not sure how many supporters can attend the afternoon meeting, but more than 700 people have signed a petition asking for the two statues to be moved.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council’s vote Tuesday is largely procedural. It would put a resolution on the agenda of Thursday’s council meeting that asks permission from the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission to move the statues. A final vote on the petition could come as early as Thursday.

Moving the statues without the commission’s permission is a felony.

If approved, the statues would be moved to Veterans Park, where a memorial honoring veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars is already in the works.

Gray said Sunday that tentative plans call for two memorials for Union soldiers to be added to the display, along with additional signage with the statues of Breckinridge and Hunt Morgan. Breckinridge was the last Confederate Secretary of War. Hunt Morgan was a slave owner and a Confederate general.

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.

Some people who live near Veterans Park, though, don’t want Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge as neighbors.

Susan Jordon, who lives in the Pinnacle neighborhood, said she understands why people want to move the statues from downtown.

“But you aren’t solving the problem, you are just moving the problem here,” Jordon said.

Jordon said she and many of her neighbors are concerned about safety. Saturday’s deadly confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a Confederate statue there has some in the neighborhood worried: if the statues are moved to Veterans Park, would it attract similar protests and counter-protests?

“Our kids play there,” Jordon said. “ My grand kids play there.”

Jordon said her father was a World War II veteran and her sons are either retired or active-duty military. Honoring war veterans and those that sacrificed for their country is important “but these two men fought against our country.”

She and others questioned why the city didn’t try to move the statues to another location.

City officials have said they asked officials with Lexington Cemetery — which has a Confederate cemetery — if they would take the statues, but that request was denied.

The city owns Veterans Park and the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission won’t approve the move unless the statues have an appropriate home, city officials have said.

Councilwoman Kathy Plomin, who represents some of the neighborhoods around Veterans Park, said early Monday that she had not yet heard any concerns from neighborhoods in her district.

“But we know this is going to be a very controversial and divisive issue,” Plomin said.

Councilwoman Susan Lamb, who represents Pinnacle and other neighborhoods close to Veterans Park, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Gray said Lexington Police are prepared if hate groups come to protest removal of the statues. Lexington police have stepped up patrols around the two statues, he said.

“Lexington is a compassionate city,” Gray said in an interview Monday morning with CNN. “But it also a prepared and disciplined city.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall