There was a notable absence at this year’s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. march in Lexington: Two Confederate statues, which were removed from the land around the Fayette County courthouse in October.
This was the first time in march’s 44-year history that participants did not have to walk by the controversial Confederate statues.
The statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and Confederate Secretary of War John Breckinridge had stood in downtown Lexington for more than 130 years. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray called for their removal in August following three deaths at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Thousands of Freedom March participants, led by city and state leaders such as Gray, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundgeran Grimes and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, moved through downtown Lexington and past where those statues used to stand, celebrating the life of King and encouraging equality and peace.
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Many marchers held signs, including Michael Owen McNeal, who was near the front of the pack with sign that showed a picture of King with the transcription of “Peace On Earth” written below it.
“When I see him, I think about the words ‘Peace on Earth.’ That’s all I’m into,” McNeal said. “This march and everything, this is what I want to see: peace on earth, rather than all these shootings and everything.”
Scott County High School classmates Morgan Rehm and Elena Winkle each marched with signs of their own. Recruited by their AP Human Geography teacher to march on Monday, Rehm proudly displayed her “We shall win by love” sign and Winkle showcased her “The time is always right to do what is right” sign.
Rehm said it was important to stand with the community and uplift them in any way they can.
“I always think that for protesting, doing it through love and advocacy is important,” she said. “When you embrace change with love, it’s always more likely to happen because it’s from the heart. It’s more apt to produce the results you want. As a human society, it’s important to love each other and instill that type of quality into a community.”
“Watching Lexington come together and march was really cool,” Winkle added. “I could really feel the love out there.”
Jamie McDaniel brought his children, Crawford Middle School student Mashayla Noble and Liberty Elementary School student Braxton Noble, to the march for the first time on Monday.
With his children set to study Black History Month in February, McDaniel felt they could connect with the lesson more by actually participating in the march.
“They are the next generation of Americans and America is supposed to always be progressing and improving so that their generation does better than previous generations,” McDaniel said. “Participating in marches like this and remembering America’s history helps do that.”
Many of the marchers remained at Heritage Hall for the Martin Luther King. Jr. Day Celebration, featuring keynote speaker Tim Wise. A prominent anti-racist writer and educator, Wise has spent 25 years speaking at colleges, high schools, professional and academic conferences and to community groups across the country.
Gray and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto each addressed the crowd by video prior to Wise’s keynote address.
“The Freedom March exemplifies the values we each hold dear,” Capilouto said. “I am grateful to live on a campus and in a city that understands that in the spirit of Dr. King, that we must all work together to create a community in which everyone feels valued. Our work will never be complete, but we are unwavering in our commitment to make that journey together.”