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Ron Daley: New statue in Capitol is opportunity to explore Kentucky history — with plenty of candidates

The discussion around and the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue in the Capitol rotunda has been a teaching moment for Kentuckians, especially its youth. The consideration of a new statue is an opportunity for young and old alike to learn more about Kentucky and its greatest citizens.

Gov. Andy Beshear, the Historic Properties Advisory Commission and other pertinent historic organizations should gather nominations and host essay and art contests to promote learning about the Commonwealth’s history as part of the selection.

Two prominent Kentuckians stand out: explorer Daniel Boone and one of the best-known athletes in the world, Muhammad Ali.

Before we go down the list, let us explore a unique way to honor many Kentuckians. Most Kentuckians are women. Most teachers in Kentucky are women. Kentucky has a remarkable history in education, and we wish to promote the value of education. Let us erect a statue of a teacher holding a book or reading to a student.

Rep. Lisa Willner sent a letter to Gov. Beshear on behalf of the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus urging the selection of a woman. Her admirable list of eight females included several African Americans. Those names are: State Senator Georgia Powers, Mary Elliott Flannery, Anne Braden, Alice Dunnigan, bell hooks, Anna Mae Clark, Alberta Odell Jones, and Gov. Martha Layne Collins. The list did not include Carrie “Hatchet” Nation a leader in the Temperance movement prior to Prohibition (would probably not play well in the bourbon capitol of the world) or singer Loretta Lynn from eastern Kentucky.

A great female special needs educator from Stanford, Kentucky was Sophia Kindrick Alcorn. She is best known for inventing the Tadoma method of communication with people who are deaf and blind. She was a strong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

Isaac Shelby, the state’s first and fifth governor is deserving of a statue. He fought in the Revolutionary War, playing a pivotal role in defeating the British at Kings Mountain when the war was in doubt. Under his guidance Kentucky got its first state seal with the words “United we stand – divided we fall.”

Kentucky has been the birthplace of one U.S. president and four U.S. vice presidents including Alben Barkley. Before his election with President Truman he was a U.S. senator and longtime senate majority leader.

Kentucky has had noteworthy U.S. Supreme Court Justices including an amazing career in Chief Justice Fred Vinson. He was born in Louisa and was elected to Congress. He served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Truman. Other notable Supreme Court Justices were John Marshall Harlan who dissented from the segregationist Plessy v. Ferguson decision (1896), and Louis B. Brandeis who was the first Jewish person to serve on the Supreme Court and was a major supporter of social reform.

Cassius Marcellus Clay (The Lion of White Hall), was a politician, and emancipationist who worked for the abolition of slavery. He freed the slaves he inherited from his father’s estate. Lincoln appointed him as the minister to Russia.

We have honored Ephraim McDowell with a statue in the rotunda for his groundbreaking surgery work removing an ovarian tumor in 1809. He has been called “the father of ovariotomy.” He married one of Isaac Shelby’s daughters. Probably more deserving is Thomas Hunt Morgan, a Nobel Prize winner, honored for his work in heredity and genetics.

Kentucky has had numerous, accomplished, and famous authors with Robert Penn Warren topping the list. He was novelist and poet winning the Pulitzer Prize three times. Warren was the first author to win the award in both the fiction and poetry categories.

Kentucky has a rich history and has had many Kentuckians making the Commonwealth, nation, and the world a better place to live. Let us use this moment to learn about our history and decide whom we wish to honor in a statue or display in the rotunda.

Ron Daley has a bachelor’s degree in history from Berea College and a master’s degree in history from Western Kentucky University. He is a member of the 2017 class of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.

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