Whites pondered statues while Ky. blacks feared for their lives

Lexington leaders walked downtown to the 1911 unveiling of the John Hunt Morgan statue.
Lexington leaders walked downtown to the 1911 unveiling of the John Hunt Morgan statue. Kentucky Digital Library

Troops were called out to protect Negro laborers in Frankfort, Kentucky, on May 28, 1909, the day the Monument Committee — populated and dominated by the daughters of the Confederacy under the chairmanship of Mrs. William M. Bateman and advised by an assortment of colonels (one of whom was John Hunt Morgan’s brother) — met to consider where to place the new statue of John Hunt Morgan.

The white rioters in Frankfort objected to Negroes occupying good white jobs building roads. The whites threatened to blow up the Negro laborers with the very dynamite they used in building roads.

The Lexington Leader devoted the left side of its paper to the Monument Committee, an inside page to the threatened Frankfort laborers, but the most prominent part of the paper — the front’s right side — to another trouble: the white riot in Georgia protesting the presence of Negro firemen on the railroads.

This riot threatened to shut down the whole southeastern corridor to rail traffic which would seriously hurt business in Kentucky. But as one white rioter put it: “This is a white man’s country and we propose to keep it a white man’s country if we have to do without any trains.” Already several Negro fireman had been seriously beaten up. Mediation on the issue was promised and solutions were already being proposed.

The Monument Committee — after a good healthy debate — decided that the best place for Morgan’s statue — the site where it would receive the most attention — would be in front of the new courthouse.

This site needed to be approved by the fiscal court under the leadership of Judge Frank Bullock but Judge Bullock’s father, Major Bullock, had been a Morgan raider, and the committee was fairly certain that Judge was favorable to the statue’s placement.

That approval wasn’t given until May of 1910. Only one voice was recorded in the Leader raising any concern. A Justice Bell wondered aloud: “It should not be forgotten that the courthouse and its surroundings belonged to the people and that the question should be discussed at large before a decision was made.”

But the Monument Committee — or the Daughters of the Confederacy — had been discussing for years. Their colonel advisors had been discussing for years. As far as one could tell, there were no objections. No white objections at least.

Negroes had other concerns on their minds.

Joe Anthony is a Lexington writer whose latest novel,“Wanted: Good Family,” deals with race in 1940s Bluegrass.