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New film documents protests over Murray Confederate monument


A new documentary recounting the unsuccessful protests to remove a Confederate monument from downtown Murray at the height of Black Lives Matter protests is set to screen at Murray State University.

“Ghosts of a Lost Cause” documents the western Kentucky community’s struggle over a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, located on the corner of downtown Murray’s court square. By combining archival materials and original interviews, the documentary aims to offer “a profound look at how the stories we tell about history impact how we live today.”

The film’s executive producer, Gerry Seavo James, works as an outdoor recreation planner with Explore Kentucky, his environmental social-enterprise. James said markers like the 12-foot granite statue in downtown Murray – which bills itself as “the friendliest small town in America” – can make Black Americans feel that a place is stuck in the past.

“Here I am … a black man … I'm about to go do work for a public entity, a city, and then on public property we have a monument honoring a treasonous insurrectionist,” James said. “I want people from the other side of these things to understand that's how that's how it makes people feel. If we want people to feel like everyone is valuable in this country, we need to be thinking about that.”

Jameshas been documenting protests and movements throughout Kentucky for years, but he said the 2020 protests in Murray represented a unique confluence of diverse advocates and that can be seen in the documentary.

“It humanizes [the issue of Confederate monuments],” James said. “We have folks from different generations. We have Gen Z folks. We have Gen Xers… We have a Baby Boomer. We have millennials. So, we're covering all different demographics and stuff.”

The documentary is also produced by Sherman Neal II, a Black veteran and volunteer football coach who wrote the letter that sparked the protests. James reached out to Neal with the idea of creating a documentary after reading about his efforts in Murray.

For Neal, the film was a chance to continue advocating for change when he believed the situation had “stagnated” and an opportunity to amplify community voices.

“We were trying to find a way to convey our message in a new way to resonate,” Neal said. “It's cool to capture that, in real time, kind of like an any man or any woman story. You don't need to be a person of high resources, low resources ... anything that can be a limiting factor, you see people overcome that and become leaders in their own community.”

Murray resident Robyn Pizzo – along with her husband and young daughter – was among the protestors calling for the removal of the Confederate monument to be removed. Pizzo said she believes Murray can live up to that “friendliest small town in America” moniker so long as it continues to lead with acceptance and inclusion.

“We were there almost every Saturday morning with signs having conversations with other people in the community about why it was important to us,” Pizzo said. “That was one of the positive things to come out of it was all the relationships that I built. And that sense of community, knowing that people care enough to show up and to fight for something that they believe in.”

Pizzo — who currently serves on the Murray Independent School Board — said her involvement in the protests inspired her to start a new career in advocacy and now works to fight against sexual violence in the commonwealth.

The short documentary is a part of the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange’s Rural Urban Solidarity Project– a statewide film series documenting racial justice actions in rural Kentucky. Josh Mauser and Curtis Franklin provided videography for the project, and Murray State student Seth Hawkins served as lead editor.

Neal said that the documentary is just the first step in advocating for causes like racial social justice. He said that impartial, dedicated and local media services are “critical to persevering democracy,” and he hopes news coverage can play a larger role in building community relationships.

“Part of what we want to accomplish is creating new funding mechanisms– whether it's grants or formally incorporating these types of stories into university curriculums or public news services– as a means to give people spaces to have these debates,” Neal said. “It's made adults better; students better; the government better; increased accountability.”

“Ghosts of a Lost Cause” will screen on Murray State University’s main campus on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Wrather Museum at 6 p.m. with a panel discussion immediately following. The event is open to the public with tickets available online.

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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