Tom Eblen

Here’s where Lexington’s unwanted Confederate monuments should go.

Grave stone, right, of Gen. John Hunt Morgan in The Lexington Cemetery.
Grave stone, right, of Gen. John Hunt Morgan in The Lexington Cemetery. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

There’s a problem with removing Confederate memorials from public squares: To where do we move them?

I can’t agree with those who think these statues should be destroyed. They are part of our history. Not just Civil War history, but the history of the Confederate memorial movement, which decades later sought to recast the rebellion to preserve slavery into a mythical “lost cause” to perpetuate white supremacy.

Like other embarrassing episodes of history, we must remember this story so we don’t repeat it. Confederate memorials belong in museums, where it would be clear they are historical artifacts and not monuments to people whose actions and ideas we still honor.

The problem is that most of the dozens of Confederate memorials in Kentucky are large outdoor pieces, and few history museums have sculpture gardens.

Some have suggested moving statues of Confederate heroes to battlefield parks where they fought. But that’s not a perfect solution, especially for Lexington. Neither John Hunt Morgan, the cavalry raider, nor John C. Breckinridge, a general and the last Confederate secretary of war, are closely associated with a battlefield park.

Perhaps unwanted Confederate memorials from around Kentucky could be relocated to the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site at Fairview, near where the Confederacy’s only president was born.

"We must be adults today," Mayor Jim Gray said as the Urban County Council voted to relocate two Confederate statues from the old courthouse downtown. Watch highlights from the council meeting and vote.

That would certainly be better than some other alternatives. This issue makes me think of a National Geographic photo essay I saw earlier this year. It showed discarded statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin scattered across the Ukrainian landscape.

Unless state government creates some kind of park for unwanted Confederate monuments, I suspect the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, which must approve the Urban County Council’s request to move the Morgan and Breckinridge statues from around the old Fayette County Courthouse, won’t want them to go far from Lexington.

(In the unlikely event this commission decides to keep Lexington from controlling its own public square, I have another suggestion: Cover the statues with shrouds that say “black lives matter.”)

The overflow crowd inside Lexington city hall erupted in cheers after the Urban County Council voted unanimously to move two Confederate statues from the old courthouse downtown.

But this would be the best solution: Move these monuments to The Lexington Cemetery.

Both Morgan and Breckinridge are buried there; why shouldn’t their monuments rest there, too? Like a museum, a cemetery is a place for remembering people from the past, no matter how we feel about them now.

The Lexington Cemetery, one of the nation’s most beautiful burial grounds, was created in 1849 in a grove of old-growth trees after population growth and several cholera epidemics filled the city’s graveyards. It now has more than 64,000 graves on its 170 acres, including many of the most notable and notorious people from Lexington’s history.

The cemetery already has two Confederate monuments. The Ladies’ Confederate Memorial was put up in 1874 after a five-year fundraising campaign led by Breckinridge’s wife, Mary. The Confederate Soldiers’ Monument was erected in 1893.

This non-profit cemetery has a 168-year-old tradition of service to Lexington. By finding a place for outdated memorials to two of its own, whose actions put them on the wrong side of history, cemetery officials would be performing a great public service.

Mayor Jim Gray reacted with the crowd inside the Urban County Government Center after a unanimous "yes" by all members of the Urban County Council to relocate two Confederate statues at the old courthouse.