Fayette County

Lexington Cemetery and city finalize deal to move Confederate statues

Crews removed the statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan on Oct. 17 from the old Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington.
Crews removed the statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan on Oct. 17 from the old Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington.

The Lexington Cemetery and the city have finalized an agreement that will allow two Confederate statues to be permanently moved to the Leestown Road cemetery.

The city and the cemetery have been in negotiations for several weeks over issues associated with moving the statues, including the size of the bases of the statues, and security and upkeep. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve the 12-page agreement.

The cemetery board tentatively agreed to take the statues of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, the last Confederate secretary of war, in September after the council voted unanimously to remove the statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County Courthouse on Main Street. Breckinridge’s staute had stood since 1887; Morgan’s since 1911.

Both men are buried at Lexington Cemetery.

The agreement says the statues will be moved to the cemetery but will remain city property. The cemetery will have access to a fund started at the Blue Grass Community Foundation for the statue’s upkeep and other costs associated with moving the statues. That fund has raised more than $75,000.

The city removed the statues in mid-October after receiving an attorney general’s opinion that the city didn’t need permission of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission to move the statues. That opinion said the council never approved a 2003 application signed by then-Mayor Teresa Isaac to put the statues under state control, voiding the 2003 decision.

The statues have been in storage since they were removed in October.

“It’s been a very difficult issue for this community, and it’s now completed,” Vice Mayor Steve Kay said shortly after the council voted to approve the agreement.

Mayor Jim Gray said he was thankful that the cemetery was able to accommodate the city’s request to take the statues.

“The Lexington Cemetery and the members of the board of the cemetery have really stepped up to help the city,” Gray said after Thursday’s meeting. “We are doing it the right way. It’s being done in a respectful way.”

It’s not clear when the two statues will be moved to the cemetery. Some issues, such as security, need to be worked out, city officials said Thursday.

City officials hope that only private funding will be used to move the statues. The agreement says the city will cover the costs associated with installation, which could include new bases for the statues. Prometheus Bronze Foundry and Duncan Machinery have donated time and services to move the statues at no cost to the city.

The council voted to move the statues in August, less than a week after a violent confrontation in Charlottesville, Va., where one woman was killed and dozens injured when a man drove a vehicle into a group of counterprotesters who had clashed with white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue.

The debate on whether to remove the statues started after Morgan’s statue was vandalized in June 2015 with black paint that read “Black Lives Matter.” After that, Gray asked the Urban County Arts Review Board, which reviews public memorials and art, to make recommendations on whether the two statues represented “the shared values” of Lexington.

The Urban County Arts Review Board recommended in November 2015, after four months of public debate, that the two statues be moved. The statues, though, remained until Gray announced in August that he would seek the council’s support to move them.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall