Politics & Government

Petition: Replace Jefferson Davis statue in Capitol with tribute to Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali in Kentucky

Memorable images of Muhammad Ali in Kentucky.
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Memorable images of Muhammad Ali in Kentucky.

Lexington attorney Jonathan Miller is pushing an online petition to replace the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Capitol Rotunda with a tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Louisville native and boxing legend who died late last week.

Miller, a former state treasurer, has an online petition at his site, The Recovering Politician, addressed to Gov. Matt Bevin and the top two state legislative leaders — Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo — to make the change.

The petition says: “We applaud your support for the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis currently in Kentucky’s Capitol Rotunda, and we urge you to replace it with a two-dimensional representation (portrait, photo, mural, etc.) of Muhammad Ali, ‘the Louisville Lip’ and ‘the Greatest of All Time.’”

“Ali was one of the most important figures of the 20th Century, and a critical leader in the civil rights movement. As a true Kentucky icon, Ali belongs in the Capitol Rotunda,” said Miller.

Miller, writing in a June 5 article for Kentucky Sports Radio, said he started 18 months ago recommending the removal of the Davis statue in the Capitol Rotunda and replacing it with a tribute to Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion who died last Friday at the age of 74. A public memorial service for Ali is to be held Friday in Louisville, his hometown.

Miller noted that last summer several of Kentucky’s most powerful policymakers — including U.S. Sen Mitch McConnell, Bevin, Stivers and Stumbo — called for the removal of the Davis statue in the wake of a mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church in which nine people were killed by a 21-year-old man who allegedly wanted to start a race war.

As we commemorate Muhammad Ali’s passing on Friday, there’s no better moment to replace the symbol of the nation’s worst era by honoring The Greatest of All Time.

Jonathan Miller

However, last August, the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 7-2 to keep the Davis statue in the Capitol, where it stands with statues of President Abraham Lincoln and three other prominent Kentuckians. The state legislature this year did not take up the issue.

“As we commemorate Muhammad Ali’s passing on Friday, there’s no better moment to replace the symbol of the nation’s worst era by honoring The Greatest of All Time,” wrote Miller.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Miller said nearly 600 people have signed the petition, with about 150 of them this week.

Miller said he is researching whether Ali’s faith as a Muslim would prohibit three-dimensional representations of him, which is why a two-dimensional representation was called for in the petition.

If Islamic law prohibits a statue of Ali, he said, a mural or portrait in the Rotunda would be appropriate.

“I want to honor him for his value and leadership in the civil rights movement, especially his gift to a new generation of African-American citizens,” Miller said. “He contributed much to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

Asked what he would say to those who criticize Ali refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, Miller said, “I can understand why some people are angry, but I don’t consider him a draft dodger. He confronted the draft.”

Miller said he has received a few “angry comments” on his call to honor Ali.

“One of them encouraged me to kill myself,” he said. “You can quote me that I have decided not to take their advice.”

Miller met Ali once at an event at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort during the administration of Paul Patton.

“I went to shake his hand and he put up his fists like a boxer. It was a cool moment,” he said.

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