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Kentucky Republicans, Democrats Call for Removing Jefferson Davis Statue from Capitol

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

  Top Kentucky Democrats and Republicans  want a statue of Jefferson Davis removed from the state Capitol rotunda in Frankfort.

The calls to remove the statue of the Confederate president and Kentucky native come amid national scrutiny of Confederate memorials and symbols, sparked by last week’s shooting deathof nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina.

On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Beshear asked the state’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission to review statue’s place in the rotunda. No indication was made of when the review would be complete.

“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,” Beshear said.

The Davis statue is situated just feet from a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, another Kentucky native given greater prominence in the rotunda. Others with statues in the rotunda include antebellum Sen. Henry Clay, Vice President Alben Barkley and pioneer physician Ephraim McDowell.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters on Wednesday that it was “appropriate” to be “talking about the appropriateness of continuing to have Jefferson Davis’ statue in a very prominent place” in the state Capitol building.

Dylann Roof, the man charged in the Charleston shooting, was depicted holding a Confederate flag in photos posted online. The shooting led to an intensifying of criticism of Confederate icons on state property—most prominently Confederate flag flying near the South Carolina capitol, the presence of the flag on Mississippi’s state flag and confederate monuments on the University of Texas campus.

The Jefferson Davis statue in Frankfort was presented to Democratic Gov. Happy Chandler in 1936. It was funded by private donors and a $5,000 appropriation by the legislature, according to the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties.

Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, was one of the first leaders toweighin in favor of removing the Jefferson Davis statue from the rotunda. His stance came after Politico revealed that Bevin had received donations from a white supremacist during his 2013 senatorial campaign (since this came to light, Bevin and his running mate Jenean Hampton announced they would each donate $500 each to the Warren County NAACP.)

Democratic candidate Jack Conway on Wednesday called for the statue to be removed from the rotunda after initially saying he was “open to the idea.”

“I believe that the Jefferson Davis statue belongs in a museum, where history is taught, rather than in the State Capitol, where laws are made, where rights are upheld, and where we strive for equal justice under the law,” Conway said in a statement Wednesday.

In 2014, former state treasurer Jonathan Miller on his Kentucky Sports Radio blog called for the statue to be replaced by one of Muhammad Ali. But a  representative told Miller Ali’s family said that Islam prohibits the three-dimensional representation of living Muslims.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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