Politics & Government

Kentucky NAACP renews effort to remove Jefferson Davis statue from Capitol

Avery Tandy, age eight, and her brother Solomon Tandy, age six, examined the statue of Jefferson Davis after the Black History Month Celebration at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, Ky, on Feb. 10, 2016. The siblings attended the celebration with their parents.
Avery Tandy, age eight, and her brother Solomon Tandy, age six, examined the statue of Jefferson Davis after the Black History Month Celebration at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, Ky, on Feb. 10, 2016. The siblings attended the celebration with their parents. palcala@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky chapter of the NAACP will renew its effort to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol Rotunda in the aftermath of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., the group’s leader said Monday.

“It’s important for all to realize how offensive these statues can be, especially to the African-American community,” said Raoul Cunningham, who also heads the Louisville chapter of the NAACP. “We are working on a meeting in a few weeks of like-minded individuals to plot a course to take the Davis statue out of the seat of state government and put it somewhere more suitable, like the Kentucky History Museum.”

He said the state chapter has between 8,000 to 10,000 members and that he will encourage local chapters around the state to seek the removal of Confederate statues and symbols from prominent positions in their communities.

“Charlottesville has focused attention again on this situation,” said Cunningham, referring to a white supremacist rally in that city Saturday that left three dead and 35 injured.

The state NAACP was unsuccessful two years ago in trying to get the Davis statue out of the Capitol Rotunda. The state Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 7-2 to keep it there.

The commission, which oversees the statues in the Capitol, said the likeness of the Confederate president juxtaposed nicely with an imposing statue of fellow Kentucky native Abraham Lincoln as a testimony to the state’s divisive history during and after the Civil War.

The vote by the commission, which was all white at the time, followed the racially motivated slayings of nine black church members in South Carolina that prompted a re-examination of Confederate symbolism across the South. The shooter, who had an affinity for Confederate symbols, was convicted of murder and hate crime charges in federal court in December 2016 and last January was sentenced to death.

The panel also decided in 2015 to produce educational materials to provide background and context about the statue and four others in the Rotunda to Capitol visitors. However, the panel waited until last month to form a Rotunda Committee to create the educational materials.

Craig Potts, executive director of Kentucky Heritage Council, explains the task of a new committee set up to create educational materials to accompany a controversial statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda.

“What will the educational materials tell us about Jefferson Davis?” Cunningham asked Monday. “That he was born in Kentucky but lived most of his life in Mississippi and that he led pro-slavery states that seceded from the nation during the Civil War. Why do we want to keep his statue in our Capitol?”

Two years ago, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and Gov. Matt Bevin, during his successful campaign for governor, called for moving the Davis statue. But a Bluegrass Poll in 2015 showed that 73 percent of Kentuckians favored keeping the statue in the Capitol. Seventeen percent said it should be moved to a museum.

The Tennessee marble likeness of Davis, who was born in Kentucky, was placed in the Capitol in 1936 in the administration of Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler.

John Settles of Paducah, the state division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said last month that the Davis statue should stay put. He called Davis “a great American” and noted that “some of us don’t think he was offensive.”

Cunningham noted that Louisville already has moved a Confederate statue to Breckinridge County and commended Lexington Mayor Jim Gray for taking steps to move two Confederate-era statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County Courthouse to Veterans Park.

“He didn’t say destroy them,” said Cunningham. “He simply said he wants to move them to a more appropriate place.”

Jefferson Davis presenter David Walker of Van Wert, Ohio, argues that Kentucky should keep its statue of the Confederate president in the Capitol during a visit April 21, 2017, with Association of Lincoln Presenters.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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