Lawmakers call for the removal of Jefferson Davis statue from Capitol Rotunda

06/23/2015 04:43 PM

UPDATED WITH REACTION FROM GOV. BESHEAR: As lawmakers from other states begin the process of relegating symbols of the Confederacy to the annals of history and from the lawns of their Capitol grounds, Kentucky lawmakers are weighing in on a marble statue of Jefferson Davis that stands in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda.

Davis was born in Kentucky, but soon moved to Mississippi and later became the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Now several lawmakers are calling for the removal of the statue as America considers placing reminders of our darkest years in museums.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Monday echoed calls from his caucus to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state Capitol, said on Tuesday that Davis’ time in Kentucky may have passed.

“Davis’ sole connection to Kentucky was that he was born there, he subsequently moved to Mississippi, and Kentucky of course did not secede from the Union,” McConnell said. “So I think it’s appropriate, certainly in Kentucky, to be talking about the appropriateness of continuing to have Jefferson Davis’ statue in a very prominent place in our State Capitol. Maybe a better place for that would be the Kentucky History Museum, which is also in the state capital.”

The statue of Davis sits on the first floor of the Capitol alongside other notable men from Kentucky’s history, including Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay.

Gov. Steve Beshear’s office is across the hall from the statue’s in the Capitol Rotunda, and in a statement sent late Tuesday he said it is “time to reconsider the statues which represent Kentucky in our state capitol, as each statue has been in place for more than a half century,”

Beshear said that the Historic Properties Advisory Commission determines what is displayed in the Rotunda, and he will request that they review the monuments in “context of Kentucky’s history.”

“Kentucky holds a unique place in Civil War history, as our state was the birthplace of both presidents during that war,” Beshear said in the statement. “Jefferson Davis’ statue is just a few steps away from the central Abraham Lincoln statue. While Davis’ likeness hasn’t been used in the same way as the Confederate flag, a broader discussion of the statue’s position in the Capitol is due.

“I urge the Historic Properties Advisory Commission to seek public input as well as the advice of the state’s historians on all the art in the Capitol Rotunda in order to consider the necessary historic, social and educational context of these monuments.”

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, is also calling for the relocation of the statue, and he’s offering a solution on how to remove the marble rendering of a man associated with the fight over slavery.

“While we acknowledge the historical perspective of the Civil War in Kentucky, there is a time that we move on from that history and set our Commonwealth on a different path,” Hoover said in a statement. “Therefore I am calling on Governor Steve Beshear to issue an executive order to relocate the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol Rotunda to the Kentucky History Center.

“If the Governor issues an executive order for the removal of the statue, I will pre-file a bill that will create a commission to suggest to the state curator another Kentuckian to be placed in the Capitol Rotunda.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he too would be in favor of the removal of Davis’ statue.

He said he thought about the question, which Pure Politics posed in an email Tuesday morning, and contemplated Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how the 16th U.S. president could share a space with Davis.

“You have to think there is no real rationale for his statue to be in that Rotunda in the realm with the other people who are there,” Stivers said.

Pure Politics sought a statement from House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Tuesday morning, but his office said he had no comment on the placement of the statue at this time.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, told Pure Politics in a phone interview that he agreed with Stivers in the need to remove Davis from the Capitol grounds.

“It’s obvious after what happened in Charleston, South Carolina, that racism still exists. It’s still a cancer in our society,” Jones said.

“I would agree with the Senate President that maybe it’s time to put Jefferson Davis be relegated to history. … Maybe there’s a place for it at the Kentucky History Museum. That is a painful period that people need to learn from.”

The discussion also trickled into the race for governor with Republican candidate Matt Bevin and Jack Conway weighing in on the call for the removal of the statue.

Bevin, who has nine children including four adopted children from Ethiopia, said he was in favor of the removal of the statue.

“I applaud Governor Haley’s decision to call for the removal of the Confederate Flag from capitol grounds in South Carolina, and I think it would be equally appropriate for Kentucky to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from our capitol,” Bevin said.

“It is important never to forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property.”

Democratic nominee and Attorney General Conway, though, was unsure about removing the statue, telling reporters he agreed with the decision to take down the Confederate flag in other states.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, was also unsure of the call to remove the statue when asked by Pure Politics on Monday because of the Davis’ historical significance in the state.

The American Civil Liberty Union of Kentucky told Pure Politics that the monument in the Rotunda represents “a painful reminder of Kentucky’s legacy of white supremacy and racism that is inextricably intertwined with Davis’ historical role.”

“Just as other states are reconsidering their displays of the Confederate Battle Flag because of the oppression and terror that it represents for so many, we, too, must consider how the placement of the Davis statue in the Rotunda risks diminishing the trust of African-Americans, and others, in our political system here in the Commonwealth,” Amber Duke, the ACLU’s communications manager, said in a statement.

“It is worth noting that although a discussion about these symbols is entirely appropriate, their removal does not solve the underlying racial problems we face and much work remains to be done even if Mr. Davis’ statue is removed.”

Davis has his own historic park in the state marked by a 351-foot obelisk built of Kentucky Limestone in Fairview, Kentucky.


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