Fayette County

Two years after it was vandalized, marker about slave auctions returns to downtown

A celebrate the lives of people once sold at Cheapside will take place Feb. 10. A historical marker about slavery in Lexingotn was reinstalled at the old Fayette County Courthouse in 2018. The marker was vandalized in 2015.
A celebrate the lives of people once sold at Cheapside will take place Feb. 10. A historical marker about slavery in Lexingotn was reinstalled at the old Fayette County Courthouse in 2018. The marker was vandalized in 2015. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A historical marker about the Cheapside slave auction block that once stood on the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse has been returned more than two years after it was vandalized and taken down.

The marker — which commemorated the thousands of slaves once sold at Lexington’s Cheapside slave auction block — was defaced by vandals in July 2015. It was dedicated in 2003 through the efforts of the Lexington alumni chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

In 2015, the marker became part of a much larger controversy over two Confederate-era statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge that stood on the courthouse lawn. The Urban County Arts Review Board recommended in November 2015 removing the statues and restoring the historic marker, but neither of those things happened quickly.

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A historical marker about slavery in Lexingotn has been reinstalled at the old Fayette County Courthouse at the corner of West Short Street and North Upper Street. The marker, which used to be on the Cheapside Park side of the courthouse, was vandalized in 2015. It was removed and put in storage during the $32 million renovation and restoration of the courthouse. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

The historical marker could not be replaced because of an ongoing renovation of the 1899 courthouse, which is now almost complete.

It wasn’t until August 2017 that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted unanimously to move the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge, a former U.S. Vice President and the last Confederate Secretary of War. Late last year, the Lexington Cemetery agreed to take the statues of the men, who are buried there.

Take Back Cheapside, an advocacy group that pushed to get the statues of Hunt Morgan and Breckinridge moved, has long argued the two men should not be honored in a location that is believed to have been the largest slave market in the South.

DeBraun Thomas, one of the organizers of Take Back Cheapside, said the return of the historic marker may prompt a larger conversation about how to make public spaces more inclusive. Take Back Cheapside is hosting a celebration on Saturday at Cosmic Charlie’s to commemorate the marker’s return.

“It means a lot,” Thomas said. “It’s a really important moment for us.”

The marker was originally located on the Short Street side of the courthouse, closer to the Fifth Third Cheapside Pavilion. It is now at the corner of Short and Upper streets in a more prominent location.

Thomas said he hopes the new location will lead to a “a larger conversation about how we make this space more welcoming to a larger portion of Lexington.”

The marker also addresses the experience of slavery in Fayette County. It notes that a whipping post was established on the courthouse lawn in 1847 to punish black Kentuckians — both slaves and free black men — for such trivial offenses as being on the streets after 7 p.m.

Two other historical markers — one on the history of Fayette County and a second on the history of the courthouse — will also be returned to the area around the old courthouse once construction is completed in 2018.

DeBraun Thomas, of Take Back Cheapside, spoke to a crowd that watched as the John Breckinridge statue was removed by the City of Lexington.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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