Fayette County

Mayor Gray to Lexington Cemetery: Confederate statues will come with endowment

Lexington Cemetery has markers pointing the way to the graves of John Hunt Morgan and, across the lane, John C. Breckinridge.
Lexington Cemetery has markers pointing the way to the graves of John Hunt Morgan and, across the lane, John C. Breckinridge. teblen@herald-leader.com

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has told the board of the Lexington Cemetery that private donors have started an endowment to pay for the long-term upkeep and security of two Confederate statues if the cemetery agrees to take them.

In a letter to the cemetery board obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader on Saturday, Gray wrote he has been working with a diverse group that includes Take Back Cheapside, which pushed for the statues’ removal; Commerce Lexington, the city’s business chamber; the Lexington council, and a coalition of ministers and Lexington police to develop a plan to alleviate any concerns the board may have if it agrees to take the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president and Confederate Secretary of War.

Gray will speak at Monday’s Lexington Cemetery board meeting, where it may vote on the city’s proposal to take the two controversial statues. The letter was dated Thursday.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard, DeBraun Thomas of Take Back Cheapside, and Rev. C.B. Akins Sr., representing several groups including ministers, the Urban League and the NAACP, will also speak at Monday’s board meeting.

Two businesses — Prometheus Bronze Foundry and Duncan Machinery Movers — have already said they will move the statues for free. In addition, the Blue Grass Community Foundation is raising additional funds “to establish an endowment to fund the lifetime maintenance and security of the statues and other issues that may arise,” the letter said.

Straub said Saturday the group has received pledges of a little more than $100,000.

That endowment could also be used to clean two existing Confederate-era statues on the cemetery’s grounds, the letter to the board said.

In addition, Gray wrote that the city has spoken with historic preservationists who recommended the two status be placed in different locations at the cemetery if the board agrees to take them.

The statue of Breckinridge should be placed near Breckinridge’s grave and the Breckinridge family plot. Hunt Morgan’s statue should be located in the cemetery’s Confederate section. Although Hunt Morgan is buried in another section of the cemetery, the statue celebrates Hunt Morgan’s military career. “Contextually it may be more appropriate to place his statue in proximity to the Confederate section,” the letter said.

This is the second letter Gray has sent the board asking the private cemetery to take the statues.

The Lexington Fayette-Urban County Council voted unanimously last month to move the two statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse. That resolution gave Gray 30 days to return to the council with a new location for the statues. Those 30 days are up on Sept. 14.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. said Saturday he has heard from many constituents who think the Lexington Cemetery is the best final resting place for Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge. The two men are buried there. It is a historic and beautiful cemetery with a Confederate section.

“This just seems to be the one safe harbor everyone agrees on,” Farmer said. “It’s not putting them away, it’s putting them some place different. These two pieces of art need to join those two men who are buried in that cemetery.”

The statues can not be moved without the blessing of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, which has final say on the statues’ fate. City officials have been told it’s unlikely the commission will allow the statues to be moved unless the city can find an appropriate home.

The commission’s next meeting is in November.

The city had originally proposed moving the statues to Veterans Park where a larger memorial to military veterans is in the works. But the city quickly scuttled those plans after getting push-back from some military veterans and neighbors adjacent to the southeast Lexington park.

It’s not clear how the Lexington Cemetery, a private, nonprofit, will vote on the city’s request.

Officials with the Lexington Cemetery did not return phone calls Friday.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall