Lexington Mayor Jim Gray applauded at vigil for decision to move Confederate statues
The sound of hundreds of people singing “This Little Light of Mine” rang through downtown Lexington on Monday night as a nearly two-hour long vigil in solidarity with Charlottesville, Va., came to a close.
The crowd, which filled the lawn outside the Fayette County District Courthouse, listened as Kentucky politicians, religious leaders and activists called for togetherness and condemned the violence that occurred over the weekend in Charlottesville. The speakers called for action from Lexington residents and celebrated some measures that have already been set in motion.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was the first to bring up Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s announcement on Saturday of plans to move two Confederate-era statues from the grounds of the old Fayette County Courthouse on Main Street. The crowd on Monday gave Gray a long round of applause for his action.
Gray proposes the statues, which depict John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, might be moved to Veterans Park, where they can be put into context with additional signage. Multiple people have contacted the city asking how they can donate money toward the removal of the statues, Gray said Sunday.
The Kentucky NAACP chapter announced Monday that they will also renew efforts to have the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis removed from the Capitol Rotunda, the group’s leader said Monday.
DeBraun Thomas is one of the founders of Take Back Cheapside, a group that has been calling for the removal of the Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge statues from downtown for almost two years. Thomas asked the crowd to call their city council members, saying that the work is just getting started.
“There are lots of things that we can find our way to rally around and there’s lots of things we can show up to,” Thomas said. “But it’s not about showing up and making ourselves feel better. It is about showing up and then continuing to do the work.”
Lexington Fayette Urban County Councilwoman Angela Evans said Monday night that she was disappointed two years ago when the statues of Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge were not removed right away. But she voiced her support for Gray’s announcement Saturday and called for Lexington residents to attend upcoming council meetings on the subject. The first meeting on the subject will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday in the Council Chamber, which is on the second floor of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center on East Main Street.
University of Kentucky graduate Christine Smith and UK graduate students Shawna Felkins, Jess Linz and Christine Woodward were among those attending the vigil Monday night.
“I think seeing what happened in Charlottesville was striking for me because it felt like it could have been Lexington,” Linz said. “So I’m here tonight to be a different presence.”
Smith offered some critiques for the event Monday night, saying more could be done to draw a wider scope of listeners.
“I think we need to think of politics more broadly, I don’t think we should be swept up in the same republican/democrat debate,” Smith said. “I think it’s distracting and I think it limits our creativity to challenge the kinds of politics that we’re currently seeing.”
Smith said she thinks its time for something new, and that the time has passed for “democrat self-congratulations.”
“I think we need to be more creative about our politics,” Smith said. “I’m tired of democrats just getting up there and (saying) ‘democrats are fighting.’ In the past, democrats have been kind of spotty when they’ve spoken up or been this vocal.”
Lexington Rabbi David Wirtschafter led a chant of “no hate, no fear, Nazi thugs aren’t welcome here.” He asked the crowd to pull up on their phones the poster for the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” event, which shows the figure of a man with a sledgehammer aimed at the Star of David.
“For two generations now we’ve told our children that it would never happen here, not in America, sweetheart,” Wirtschafter said. “That nightmare will not happen in the oldest democracy in the world. Do I have your promise that you’ll help us keep that promise to our children?”
The Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, Kentucky National Organization for Women, Indivisible Bluegrass and Together We Will Bluegrass were listed on the event’s Facebook page as organizers and sponsors of the vigil on Monday.
On Monday, two days after the unrest in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump denounced white supremacist groups by name, including the KKK and neo-Nazis. On Saturday, Trump had spoken out against violence and bigotry “on many sides” but had not named specific groups or mentioned white supremacy.
Another vigil in solidarity with Charlottesville is scheduled in Frankfort at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the Capitol Annex, according to a Facebook event created by Together Frankfort.