Government leaders in Kentucky's second-largest city took a decisive stand Thursday night in favor of moving two Confederate statues from their prominent places outside a former courthouse being converted into a visitors center.
The proposal to relocate statues honoring Confederate officers John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge won unanimous approval from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council after nearly three hours of public testimony that overwhelmingly supported the resolution.
The statues will not be moved immediately, CBS affiliate WKYT reports. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has 30 days to pick a new location.
The action showed the city is "taking responsibility to do the right thing," Gray said.
"Confronting our history is often difficult ... and uncomfortable," Gray said. "We all know, in many ways, this war is unfinished. It did not put an end to the vicious and violent reach of unrepentant racism. An important step we can take toward finishing it means facing up to our history."
People in the packed council room stood and applauded after the vote.
The council's action isn't the final word on the issue. The city still has to ask a state military heritage commission for permission.
The problem is 4 of the 5 members of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission are state officials appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, and serve at the pleasure of the Governor.
In 2002 the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission was created by an act of the General Assembly as an independent agency of the Commonwealth of Kentucky but attached to the Kentucky Heritage Council for administrative and support purposes. The commission consists of the Adjutant General, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Director of the Kentucky Historical Society, the Director of the Commission on Military Affairs and the Commissioner of the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
As a means of protection, the commission is charged with maintaining a registry of Kentucky military heritage sites and objects significant to the military history of the Commonwealth. The commission accepts requests from the public for designation of military heritage sites and objects – including buildings, monuments and community resources – that represent all eras of Kentucky’s military history. Most sites registered by the commission are military monuments and memorials, but the legislation gives the commission some latitude as to what may be considered for recognition.
Once accepted to the registry, these sites and objects by law cannot be damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered, other than for repair or renovation, without the written consent of the commission. Failure to do so is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class D felony for each subsequent offense.
All but the Director of the Kentucky Historical Society are appointed by Bevin and moving the statues will require at least three members, if not all five.
This same commission stopped the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue years ago, so who knows what will happen now. The point is the commission was created to prevent cities in Kentucky from doing this in the first place.
We'll see, but I'm betting Bevin's office has already been on the phone to most of these members telling them what he expects.