Council must vote as one to move statues

Statue of John C. Breckinridge, a Confederate leader who later served as U.S. vice president, stands new the old courthouse in downtown Lexington.
Statue of John C. Breckinridge, a Confederate leader who later served as U.S. vice president, stands new the old courthouse in downtown Lexington. Herald-Leader file photo

We agree with Mayor Jim Gray that it is only right that the statues of Civil War luminaries be removed from Cheapside Park, a place where thousands of humans were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The statues honor two men who served the Confederacy in an effort to preserve slavery and continue those dreadful auctions. They must be moved, as we wrote in June.

The council took an important first step Tuesday, voting unanimously to put Gray’s proposal on the agenda for Thursday’s council meeting.

All 15 members should be present Thursday and vote as one to support Gray’s proposal, then work with him in good faith to find an appropriate location for the monuments.

Finding a new home for the statues of Gen. John Hunt Morgan and Vice President John C. Breckinridge won’t be easy.

Over the weekend Gray proposed moving them to a veterans’ walk being developed in Veteran’s Park but, apparently after pushback from neighbors, he asked instead for the council to endorse moving the statues with locations to be announced within 30 days. Any move must be approved by a state board that oversees such statues.

The proposed removal is not, as some assert, an effort to erase history.

It is important to remember Lexington’s role as home to the largest slave auction in the state at Cheapside, and to recognize the thousands from Kentucky who fought for the Confederacy and the many more thousands who fought to preserve the United States.

But, as almost all who spoke to the council Tuesday said, retaining the statues of Morgan and Breckinridge on the lawn of the old courthouse is not the way to accomplish that.

Both were slaveholders. Breckinridge, whose statue was erected in 1887, served as vice-president of the United States but later joined the Confederacy and served as its secretary of war.

As a Confederate general, Morgan led guerrilla fighters on raids, including here in Central Kentucky. At the time of his death the Confederacy had removed him from command for disobeying orders and refusing to investigate outrages committed by his men.

The statue of Morgan, seated heroically upon a stallion (although he rode a mare in battle) was not erected until 50 years after the Civil War, the product of the “Lost Cause” movement to sanitize and romanticize the history of the pre-Civil War South, including slavery.

There are many reasons why statues of slaveholders who fought to preserve slavery never belonged in the space where thousands were sold as slaves. This is even more true now with that elegant building soon to reopen in a new role as a welcome center for visitors to Lexington.

As one speaker said Tuesday, how can we welcome people from across the country and the world to a location where many of our citizens won’t feel welcome?