Removal of Jefferson Davis plaque in Kentucky delayed
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A plaque in the Kentucky Capitol declaring the only president of the Confederacy to be a hero and a patriot will stay until a lawyer with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration can determine if the decision to remove it was legal.
The plaque is attached to a 15-foot (4.5 meters) marble statue of Jefferson Davis, who was born in Kentucky and was president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Efforts to remove the statue have been ongoing for years, but they gained momentum following the 2015 racially motivated killings of nine people at an African-American church in South Carolina.
The state commission that governs the statue voted to keep it in 2015. But earlier this year, following violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the commission voted to remove the plaque that says Davis was a “hero, patriot, statesman.”
At the time, state officials said the plaque would be removed in a few days. But on Wednesday, Historic Properties Division Director Leslie Nigels said the legal department at the Finance and Administration Cabinet was doing research “to make sure that we were absolutely within our rights to remove the plaque.”
“There is a possibility that it may be something that the legislature will have to address,” she said.
She said the plaque will stay at least until the commission’s next scheduled meeting in February.
State and local governments across the country have been removing Confederate monuments in recent years following the racially motivated violence in South Carolina and Virginia. In Kentucky, the statue of Davis in the Capitol rotunda has been a flashpoint given its prominent location.
The statue has been in place since 1936, paid for by $5,000 in public money authorized by the state legislature and private donations raised by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Kentucky did not secede from the Union during the Civil War. But it was filled with Confederate sympathizers who attempted to establish a Confederate government in the western part of the state.
Kentucky has wrestled with its history since the Civil War. In addition to Davis, the Capitol Rotunda includes a statue of Abraham Lincoln, who was also born in Kentucky. The Lincoln statue came first.
The original plan, according to the Kentucky Historical Society, was to have the Davis statue back-to-back with Lincoln, with Davis facing south and Lincoln facing north. But that plan was abandoned because the statues were too heavy to be that close together.
The Davis statue has been the source of political controversies. When he was running for governor in 2015, Matt Bevin was one of the first Republicans to call for the statue to be removed from the Capitol and placed in a museum.
But earlier this year, Bevin said removing the statue would set a “dangerous precedent.” Bevin has said decisions about the Davis statue should be left up to the commission because “no one individual should be making these decisions.”
A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to a request for comment.