FRANKFORT — A state panel decided Thursday to collect public comments through July 29 on whether a statue of Jefferson Davis should remain in the Capitol Rotunda or be moved to a museum.
The manager of the Jefferson Davis Historic Site in Todd County, who is black, said Thursday that it "would be fine with me" to move the marble likeness of Davis, the president of the Confederate states during the Civil War, to Davis' birthplace.
"The fate of the statue is the state's decision; whatever they will do, I will go with it," said Ron Sydnor, a Christian County native who has managed the state-run site at Fairview for five years.
The site features a 351-foot obelisk, museum and gift shop. Its budget this year is $146,242 and it has attracted 20,025 visitors since last July 1.
Sydnor, in a telephone interview, said he gets "a few chuckles when tourists see a black man running the site" that honors Davis. "But there has never been an adverse reaction to my being here," he said, declining to say what he personally thinks should happen to the statue.
In the wake of the shooting deaths of nine black people at a South Carolina church last week, several Kentucky politicians have said the statue should be moved, with some suggesting relocation to the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort.
The Todd County Standard, in a column this week by owner Ryan Craig, proposed that the statue be placed at Davis' birthplace.
"There are a couple excellent historical museums in the state, the best probably just a few miles away from the Capitol in Frankfort, but there should only be one place for Davis' statue and that is at his birthplace," Craig wrote.
Craig also said another argument for moving the statue to Fairview is the work of Sydnor.
"Most of the people of Kentucky may not realize just how well the park is administrated by Sydnor," Craig wrote. "And, when those tourists visit, Sydnor laughs when they are shocked to find out the man who runs Jefferson Davis' birthplace is an African-American."
Craig said Sydnor is "a firm believer" of showing "warts-and-all history to those who visit his park in Fairview."
All options for the statue "remain open," said Steve Collins, chairman of the 14-member Historic Properties Advisory Commission.
Collins asked members of the panel, which will decide the fate of the statue, to avoid making any public comment about the statue in coming weeks.
The commission, at the request of Gov. Steve Beshear, wants to conduct a "thorough, thoughtful, deliberative consideration" of the statue and all the others in the Capitol, Collins said.
He said he hopes the commission will come up with a recommendation before Beshear leaves office in December.
In addition to collecting public comments, the commission plans to contact various historians and historical societies for their input.
The commission will meet Aug. 5 to review the comments, Collins said.
A special section of the commission's website, www.historicproperties.ky.gov, will be set up within a few days to collect public comment, Collins said. Meanwhile, comments can be submitted now to state curator David Buchta at David.Buchta@ky.gov.
If the commission decides to remove the statue, Collins said another special meeting of the commission might be needed to find another location for it and to select a replacement for the Capitol Rotunda.
Collins, the son of former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, noted that state rules limit statues in the Rotunda to people who have been dead at least 40 years.
A possible stumbling block in removing the Davis statue from the Capitol, said Collins, are regulations of the National Register of Historic Places. It lists the Kentucky Capitol on its register.
"That's another issue we have to look at," said Collins, who manages a funeral home in Shelbyville.
Raoul Cunningham, president of the Kentucky State Conference and Louisville chapter of the NAACP, said his group has been trying since 2003 to get the Davis statue out of the Capitol.
He said his group is not advocating any specific replacement for the Davis statue but he did mention Garrett Morgan, a black inventor from Bourbon County whose inventions included traffic lights and gas masks. Morgan died in 1963 at the age of 86.
Cunningham said the Davis statue allows the opportunity for "a real dialogue about race in Kentucky."
He noted earlier in the day that he had asked the State Fair Board in Louisville to stop the sales of Confederate flags and other materials at the state fair.