Story by Lauren Epperson, Contributing writer
Four Murray State history professors joined 68 other Kentucky scholars in calling for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, Kentucky.
In the letter, past and present professors from 16 public and private universities requested the removal of the statue in response to a vote held by the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Committee’s that decided on Aug. 4 to keep the statue.
The professors – including Charlotte Beahan, James Bolin, Marjorie Hilton and David Pizzo of Murray State – addressed the letter to Gov. Steve Beshear and the historic properties committee.
“The statue’s presence in the Capitol rotunda minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions and endows the Southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve,” the letter states.
The Jefferson Davis statue is one of five statues standing in Kentucky’s Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Other Kentuckians represented in the rotunda are 19th century Ephraim McDowell, statesman Henry Clay, former U.S. Vice President Alben Barkley and former President Abraham Lincoln.
“The Capitol rotunda is a place that should honor Kentuckians that have made significant contributions to Kentucky history,” Bolin said. “Jefferson Davis really made no contribution to Kentucky.”
Davis is best known for his role as the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The latest debate over removing his statue began this summer as other states, such as South Carolina, removed the Confederate flag from government buildings. This came after a self-described white supremacist, Dylann Roof, was charged with murder in the shooting of nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“The Jefferson Davis Statue is basically glorifying the failures of the South,” said Davis Hopkins, junior from Metropolis, Illinois.
Although Jefferson Davis was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and studied at Transylvania University, he lived most of his life in Mississippi and identified himself as a Mississippian.
“To me he is a symbol of something removed from Kentucky,” said Kathy Callahan, chairwoman of the Murray State department of history. “He didn’t see himself as a Kentuckian after he left here.”
He served a term in Congress as a U.S. representative and later represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate as the U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.
“I don’t see any reason for his statue to be displayed in the building when he did not serve for the state of Kentucky,” said Alisha Kempher, sophomore from Benton, Kentucky.
Many historians who signed the letter, including Bolin, said they believe that the statue should be removed from the rotunda and placed in the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort where it would receive more visitors.
There has also been discussion about replacing the Jefferson Davis statue with one that represents a woman or African-American of Kentucky history; there are none on display in the rotunda.
“All five of those statues are white men and it is high time that we honor the contributions of Kentucky women and of Kentucky African-Americans by placing a statue in the Capitol rotunda to honor their contributions,” Bolin said.
Speaker of the Kentucky House, Rep. Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, Kentucky, has announced his intent to file legislation in the State Grand Assembly that would call for removing the statue.
Kenny Imes, Republican from Murray, said in a statement that he does not intent to support Speaker Stumbo’s bill.
“This is not an issue of political correctness,” Bolin said. “It is an issue of the accurate preservation of Kentucky history.”