Fayette County

Lexington board hears pros, cons about keeping Confederate statues downtown

The statue of Confederate hero John Hunt Morgan sits on the lawn of the old Fayette County Courthouse on West Main St. in Lexington. The city's Arts Review Board is hearing opinions concerning whether or not to leave it there.
The statue of Confederate hero John Hunt Morgan sits on the lawn of the old Fayette County Courthouse on West Main St. in Lexington. The city's Arts Review Board is hearing opinions concerning whether or not to leave it there. Herald-Leader

The Urban County Arts Review Board heard a variety of opinions on Monday about how the city should display two downtown statues honoring Confederate heroes of the Civil War.

The board, which was established in 2004, is looking at the placement and text associated with the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, as well as a historical marker that provides information about the site's history as a slave market.

A number of people at Monday's forum, including Civil War buffs from as far as Paducah, pleaded for the historic statues to remain in their places of honor on the lawn of the old courthouse.

The statues "have stood as a defining part of Lexington's landscape for over 100 years," said Alan Cornett. "What is next? Should Gratz Park be renamed? Should Ashland be closed? Those places have troubling histories too."

Others said that the statues were put up to intimidate blacks and that they continue to influence how outsiders view the community and how current generations of black children see themselves.

Michael Winkler told the group that his wife, who is from the Bahamas, was frightened when she first saw the statues when they moved to Lexington.

"She felt that we would not be at home there ... that the people of Lexington were probably racist," he said.

The arts review board will meet from 3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 30 to begin discussing the recommendations it will make to the mayor and council. A report with recommendations will be submitted in November, board chairwoman Georgia Henkel said.

The statues are under the purview of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, which would have to give the city written permission to move or make substantial changes to them, a city attorney has said.

Renee Shaw of KET, who moderated the public forum, said the mayor's office has reviewed hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls on the topic.

The board also has sought input from local historians and other experts.

Among speakers who urged that the statues be left alone was David Jarman.

He said the values of the time when the statues were erected were different than those of today, and there is no need to attempt to make them conform to modern values.

"We are not the final arbiters of history," he said. "These statues are not endorsement of past sins."

State Rep. George Brown, speaking on behalf of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, which placed the historical marker about Cheapside's history as a slave market, also addressed the board.

He said the marker would not have been a part of the discussion if it hadn't been vandalized, and he wants the city to put it back.

Several speakers, including Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell of Prometheus Foundry in Lexington, advocated leaving the statues where they are but adding more historical context.

Matthews said new art should be added "that elevates the status of those who have had a lesser voice."

Chester Grundy, senior diversity adviser to the dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky, told the board that the placement of the statues on the old courthouse lawn makes "a very profound statement," and more context was needed surrounding them.

"There's a difference in my mind in the placement of art randomly and the placement of art in the public square," he said. "We need to address this as a question of who we are, what we value and what we celebrate. Our history is a story of beauty and a story of horror, and we need to address it all."

Whatever is done should not be rushed, said Stuart Horodner, director of the UK Art Museum.

"History is complicated. Representations are complicated. Emotions are messy," he said. "There is not one audience. There is not one history."

  Comments