Group seeks to make Jefferson Davis statue harder to remove

FRANKFORT (AP) — A citizens group is seeking a special military designation for a Jefferson Davis statue in Kentucky’s Capitol Rotunda where it hopes the statue will remain, the state curator has told a newspaper.

Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War and a onetime U.S. war secretary, was born in Kentucky where debate has persisted for years over whether his likeness should be given such display. Calls erupted across the country to remove Confederate symbols from prominent locations after nine black people were fatally shot at a South Carolina church in June 2015. Authorities said the suspect in that shooting had an affinity for Confederate symbols.

A group called the Friends of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site told The Lexington Herald-Leader by phone that it is seeking the military designation for the statue, made of Tennessee marble and placed in the Rotunda decades ago. The paper reported that placing the statue on the Military Heritage Commission’s list of military sites and objects would likely make it more difficult to remove the statue from the Capitol.

Currently the state’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission has the sole authority over statues in the Capitol. It voted last August to keep the statue in the building.

Ed Georgen, head of the citizens group, told the paper he wants the statue to always remain in the Rotunda.

“Jefferson Davis had more to do with Kentucky than Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln’s statue is in the Rotunda,” he said of the Kentucky-born president. Georgen added of those who object to such statues and symbols because of Confederate ties to slavery: “There were more reasons for the Civil War than slavery. Davis is part of our history.”

In the past, some Kentucky politicians have advocated moving the statue elsewhere in the state.

State curator Leslie Nigels and Steve Collins, chairman of the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission, said recently that they don’t know the group making the request. They told the paper that the implications of granting the statue a military designation need further study.

Nigels informed the commission Thursday of the group’s request that she sign its application for registration for the military designation. Action on the request was deferred until a later meeting.

The military commission, an independent agency created in 2002, maintains a registry of Kentucky military heritage sites and objects significant to the state’s military history. Its website states that once accepted to the registry, designated sites and objects by law cannot be damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered other than for repair or renovation, without written consent of the commission.

The 14-member historic properties advisory commission oversees the maintenance, furnishing and repairs of the Governor’s Mansion, Old Governor’s Mansion, Vest-Lindsey House and state Capitol.

Raoul Cunningham, of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, said he expects debate about the statue to continue. Cunningham said it would be a mistake for the historic properties advisory commission to allow the military heritage commission to have a say in whether the statue should ever be removed.

“We would oppose giving the Davis statue the military designation this citizens’ group is seeking,” he said.

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