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Panel Votes To Remove Plaque That Calls Jefferson Davis ‘Hero’

Ryland Barton

A panel has unanimously voted to remove a plaque from a statue of Jefferson Davis at the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda that labels the president of the Confederacy as “patriot, hero, statesman.”

African-American leaders have called for the removal of the statue for years and the call was renewed following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month.

Craig Potts, who chairs the Rotunda Committee of the Historic Property Advisory Commission, said the plaque should be removed because not everyone feels the same way about Davis.

“It’s a subjective thing to call someone a hero,” Potts said. “Clearly with the national debate we’re having over memorials and monuments like that one, that’s clearly language that is inappropriate.”

The NAACP has for years pushed for the removal of the statue. In 2015, state politicians from both parties joined the effort after nine people were fatally shot at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

But the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted against relocating the statue that year, instead promising to create new ways of educating Capitol visitors about Davis and “the context of the Civil War.”

Potts said his committee is working towards creating a more “well-rounded perspective” of the statues in the rotunda.

“I think we’re on a really good path after today,” he said. “I think it’s exciting what we might be able to develop.”

The full commission was scheduled to vote on whether to remove the plaque during a meeting Thursday afternoon, but not enough board members were present to officially consider the measure.

Credit Ryland Barton
The Rotunda Committee of the Historic Property Advisory Commission met in Frankfort Thursday.

Leslie Nigels, director of Kentucky’s Division of Historic Properties, said she wasn’t sure exactly how the plaque would be removed from the statue if the commission voted to do so.

“It is attached to the marble pedestal. You can see a little bit of glue, or some sort of adhesive,” Nigels said. “I’m reticent to just try to pull it off, but somebody will have to try to pry the thing off.”

The full commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal to remove the plaque next month.

The statue is made of white marble and located in the rotunda of the Capitol building, along with notable Kentuckians Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Alben Barkley and Ephraim McDowell.

Davis was born in Fairdale, Kentucky, but spent his later years in Mississippi where he served as a U.S. senator and congressman.

The statue was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1932 along with a $5,000 appropriation from the Kentucky legislature.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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