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Calloway Co. Sheriff's Office investigating after Confederate monument defaced

Red lines cover the Confederate monument in downtown Murray.
Liam Niemeyer
Red lines cover the Confederate monument in downtown Murray.

The Calloway County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after a Confederate monument in downtown Murray was found defaced with red paint Thursday morning.

Red lines and splotches covered a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, installed on county courthouse property in 1917 with funding from the J.N. Williams Chapter of the United Daughter of the Confederacy.

Calloway County Sheriff Nicky Knight in a release Thursday said “individuals damaged the statue by putting paint on it” sometime between 10 p.m. on Wednesday and 7 a.m. on Thursday, according to a preliminary investigation. The Murray Police Department contacted the sheriff’s office around 7 a.m. on Thursday regarding the report of damage.

Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes said the county would not pay to clean up the monument and that questions regarding a potential clean-up should be directed to the local UDC chapter. A representative of the local UDC chapter did not return a request for comment.

“I’m a firm believer in First Amendment rights, free speech and all of that, but when you get into property damage, it doesn’t sit very well with me,” Imes said.

Imes said he isn’t sure what exactly the red material is on the monument and hasn’t heard whether security cameras on county courthouse property captured the monument being defaced. Imes said he didn’t believe the defacing would spur new action from the county government regarding the monument’s location.

The monument has attracted protests for more than a year over whether the monument should be removed from county courthouse property, some protests previously attracting hundreds to downtown.

The Calloway County Fiscal Court voted last year to allow the monument to remain on public property and stated it couldn’t dispute an ownership claim by the local UDC chapter. Murray City Council, Murray State University, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and former Murray State University basketball star Ja Morant have all previously called for the monument’s removal.

Madison Wathen, who believes the monument should be removed and has previously protested several times at the monument, said she saw that the monument was defaced through social media. She said she doesn’t necessarily condone vandalism but believes the defacing shows removal activists aren’t dropping the issue.

“Honestly, I think it would be cool if they left the paint because I think it lacks some historical content as it is now,” Wathen said. “I think this is kind of how he deserves to be remembered. Not really with a memorial in his honor but as a bloody stain on human history.”

Russell Sledd, another protester supporting the monument’s current location, was at the monument Thursday morning. He said couldn’t believe that “a difference of opinion” over the monument would lead to its defacing.

“It’s just a shame it comes to this,” Sledd said, wearing a Confederate flag pin on his jacket. “It’s a veteran’s memorial. Who would want to deface or destroy a veteran’s memorial? I just don’t understand that.”

Advocates who have called for the monument’s removal — which include Murray State’s History Department, Murray State College Democrats and other local community members — have previously expressed the monument is a part of the “Lost Cause” movement that seeks to whitewash the legacy of slavery in the Confederacy and that it sends an offensive message to Black community members.

Those supporting the monument’s current location have previously said the monument represents local history honoring veterans during the Civil War and that removing the monument to another location could open the statue to potential damage and neglect if unprotected.

The Calloway County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information regarding the incident to contact their office.

This story has been updated. 

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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