African-American leaders called on Gov. Matt Bevin to remove a white marble statue of Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol building on Wednesday.
The plea comes in the wake of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. But for years, activists have called for Davis’ likeness to be removed from the Capitol Rotunda, which exhibits statues of revered Kentuckians including Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, U.S. Sen. Alben Barkley and pioneer surgeon Ephraim McDowell.
Anthony Everett, a pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Lexington, said the Davis statue was a symbol of ongoing injustice toward African-Americans in the state.
“Lord we need justice in Kentucky, we need to remove all the Confederate monuments, but especially this one of the traitor-in-chief, Jefferson Davis,” Everett said.
Kentucky politicians from both political parties joined the call to remove the statue in the summer of 2015 after a race-fueled massacre at a church in Charleston, S.C.
But the state’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted to keep the statue in the Rotunda, along with a promise to produce educational material to contextualize Davis role in the Civil War.
Betty Sue Griffin, chair of the Kentucky Advisory Committee to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, said the Davis statue reminds African-American Kentuckians that the state supported the institution of slavery.
“This statue and many like it depicts the truth of the Civil War. But rather than serving as an everlasting symbol of white supremacy, let’s move it,” Griffin said.
Sen. Gerald Neal and Rep. Reginald Meeks, both Democrats from Louisville, said they would file a bill to remove the statue if it’s still in the Capitol when the next legislative session starts in January.
Bevin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the call to remove the statue.
In the wake of the violent Charlottesville protests — which were organized in opposition to removing a statue of Robert E. Lee — Bevin called the removal of Confederate monuments a “sanitization of history,” comparing the practice to historical revisionism practiced by authoritarian rulers.
The position amounted to a reversal for Bevin, who in 2015 joined politicians in calling for the removal of the Davis statue from the Capitol Rotunda.
Charles Bell, who traveled from Lebanon, Kentucky for the rally, said people who defend the Davis statue are the ones sanitizing history.
“They don’t own that history. It’s just a statue there that an organization voted to be there,” Bell said.
The white marble likeness of Davis was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1931. The state legislature approved $5,000 for the creation of the statue at the time.
Davis was born in Fairview in southwestern Kentucky and attended Transylvania University in Lexington. He later moved to Mississippi. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before becoming U.S. secretary of war from 1853-1857 and president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
This story has been updated.