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Feoshia Davis: Tradition permeates Frankfort, but it’s time for Jefferson Davis’ statue to go to a museum

Tradition permeates Frankfort.

My political reporting career started in 2000 at The Kentucky Gazette in Frankfort after I graduated from Eastern Kentucky University. It quickly became apparent that rules, tradition, and decorum were a large part of getting things done. It’s a way to temper the messiness of law making.

Tradition and rules are appealing, because everyone knows the rules and how things are supposed to work. However, tradition also can be used to quiet righteous dissent.

One Frankfort tradition is holding press conferences and big events in the Capitol Rotunda. The small Rotunda is a special and regal place, full of history. The marbled space holds five statues of notable Kentuckians, including U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his Civil War rival, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Though Kentucky wasn’t officially part of the Confederacy, but as a Southern state did have many Confederate supporters. Lincoln himself feared Kentucky might join the Confederacy and waged what amounted to a PR campaign to keep our state in the union.

I spent five years of my career in Frankfort, reporting news in the shadow of Jefferson Davis’ statue. My family has been in Kentucky for generations, but even then I was confused about why Davis was given such a place of honor. He was man who worked to rip Southern states away from the Union to preserve the “right” to build slaveholder wealth off the work of Africans.

Jefferson is quoted as saying, “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” Slavery is among our country’s greatest sins, yet there stands a tribute to Davis in a place meant to better life for all Kentuckians. Below the statue reads: Patriot, Hero & Statesman.

The message is clear. The Jefferson Davis statue in the Capitol Rotunda is not in remembrance of the shame of U.S. slavery. It’s government-sanctioned commendation for the man who led the charge to preserve it.

Right now, government leaders across the country are rethinking the proper place for these monuments. This comes after the terrible events in Charlottesville, Va., following the plans in that city to remove a Robert E. Lee memorial statue.

There are very few times in history when we as regular Kentuckians have a real opportunity to push for monumental change, and to represent all of the commonwealth’s citizens. This is one of those times.

There are five statues in the Rotunda. Five places to honor the men and women whose lives made our state a better place for every person in it. Now is the time to open up Jefferson Davis’ spot for a more worthy Kentuckian.

I ask the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission to remove Jefferson Davis’ statue from the rotunda and place it in a history museum, where it belongs.

Some traditions are best left in the past.

Feoshia Davis is a freelance writer. She now lives in Cincinnati.

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  1. Dave Souder says:

    Thank you Feoisha. But while we are quoting famous people who have their statues in our Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, let’s not forget Abraham Lincoln. During the Lincoln/Douglas Debates of 1858 Mr. Lincoln stated: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” I say that Abraham Lincoln was a virulent racist and his statue must be removed from the Capitol Rotunda !

  2. Marv Dunn says:

    Lincoln may have had his baggage but I think we should judge him by his deeds and not his campaign promises. Our current President could follow that example. I don’t have any problem with memorials to the confederate “grunt” but I agree that the memorials to confederate leadership should be withdrawn from government property.

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