Fayette County

Public input urged as Lexington nears decisive moment on Confederate statues

Lexington activists explain why Confederate statues should be moved

Take Back Cheapside leaders DeBraun Thomas and Russell Allen speak out ahead of Thursday's Lexington council meeting to consider the fate of two downtown Confederate statues.
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Take Back Cheapside leaders DeBraun Thomas and Russell Allen speak out ahead of Thursday's Lexington council meeting to consider the fate of two downtown Confederate statues.

The night before the Lexington council meets for a possible final vote on the relocation of two Confederate-era statues downtown, a group that has called for their removal for about two years asked the public for help.

During a press conference Wednesday night, DeBraun Thomas and Russell Allen, co-leaders of the grass-roots organization Take Back Cheapside, called on Lexington residents to push for the statues’ removal. The statues sit on the lawn of the former county courthouse on East Main Street and depict Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge and Confederate general John Hunt Morgan.

“There are many reasons why these monuments have no place there,” Thomas said. “The most compelling reason is the fact that they stand on a site where enslaved people were bought and sold. At the old courthouse, mother was torn from child, husband separated from wife and individuals whose names we will never know were sold from one slave holder to another.”

Thomas and Allen are urging people to call and email their district and at-large council members, and to show up at the government center on Thursday as the council takes the vote. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.

If the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council passes the resolution on Thursday, there will still be steps that have to be met before the statues can be relocated. Unlike some cities, such as Baltimore, that have recently taken swift action to move Confederate statues, Lexington would have to get approval from a separate body, the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission. If the resolution passes in the Lexington council on Thursday, Take Back Cheapside organizers will be putting out information on ways to contact the the commission, Allen said.

A chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party, Matthew Heimbach, told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that white nationalists plan to rally in opposition of the relocation of the statues. Thomas said, if that rally happens, Lexington will have to show solidarity and people will need to speak for those that don’t have a voice themselves.

“We’re going to have to stand together and do what we can within our own communities to send a message of peace, prosperity and also a message to these people that they’re not welcome here,” Thomas said. “We are going to do what we can to continue to stay peaceful within our city.”

The Lexington chapter of the NAACP also responded Wednesday to reports that white nationalists would rally in Lexington.

“In regard to these groups coming to our city, we have only one message: Lexington is a welcoming, inclusive and compassionate city and you are not welcome here,” said Lexington NAACP chapter President Adrian D. Wallace in a statement.

Take Back Cheapside hopes the Lexington council will vote unanimously in favor of moving the statues, Thomas and Allen said. Anything less than that would leave room for doubt as the vote moves to the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission.

“We are living through a watershed moment in this country, and with respect to how we see and treat one another,” Thomas said. “Racial tension and violence are increasing around the nation. The choice between leaving the statues or relocating them is no longer choice that affects Lexington alone. What we do now will reverberate far beyond the Bluegrass.”

The council meeting Thursday will be in the Council Chamber, which is on the second floor of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Center on East Main Street. Take Back Cheapside organizers said Wednesday that they expect a large crowd at the meeting and urge those interested in speaking to arrive early to sign up.