By Paige Effinger, Contributing Writer
A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia brought attention to the removal of Confederate statues across the United States including monuments in the western Kentucky area.
Government officials across Kentucky in areas including Paducah and Lexington are taking steps to remove Confederate statues in their cities. Lexington Mayor John Gray is trying to relocate two statues that are currently in the Lafayette County Courthouse.
In Paducah, petitions were created for the removal of a statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman and to rename the public high school, Paducah Tilghman High School, which is named after General Tilghman’s wife.
The city of Murray has one erect statue in the courtyard of downtown Murray, featuring Robert E. Lee.
There is a Facebook page for the statue entitled “Confederate Monument-Murray, KY” where users can rate and comment their opinions on the monument.
Duane Bolin of Murray State’s history department wrote an essay entitled “The Past Resonates in the Present” where he discusses the history of Confederate statues in Murray and the rest of Kentucky.
In his essay, Bolin wrote there are many Confederate statues all across Kentucky, but only one union monument that is not located on the grounds of a historical battle site. However, Bolin wrote 100,000 Kentuckians fought for the Union including 23,000 African Americans, whereas only 40,000 Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy.
Bolin said Kentucky remained a Union state throughout the Civil War even though it was in the south. The Confederate statues that are erected in Kentucky were made in the Jim Crow period from 1890 to 1917, in an attempt to memorialize the ideals of the old south.
Even though Kentucky was a slave state, it never seceded from the union.
“Kentucky turned to the south after the Civil War,” Bolin said. “One historian famously said ‘Kentucky seceded after the War.’”
He said many of these statues were built by groups like Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate the Confederate dead, but the secondary cause is to perpetuate the “lost cause” of the south in regards to white supremacy.
The promotion of the “lost cause” of the south was not lost throughout areas like Murray. Murray State was a segregated school until 1955.
“If the purpose of the confederacy was to maintain white supremacy by fighting the civil war, then an argument could be made that the south won the civil war,” Bolin said.
Segregation and white supremacy remained in the United States until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, including areas like Murray State.
When the school was founded, Bolin said there was a rule called “the day law” proposed by Congressman Carl Day in 1901 that stated African Americans could not attend traditionally white schools. It wasn’t until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that this law was changed.
There is a marker located in the quad that commemorates the first African American student at Murray State.
According to an article written by Fred Barbash for the Washington Post, Robert E. Lee did not believe war statues should be erected. He said they would “keep open the sores of war.”
Two letters written by Lee have been circulating the public due to the recent acts in Charlottesville. In these letters, Lee states it would be better to attend the graves of the fallen rather than build statues of the Confederate elite.
“All I think that can now be done, is to aid our noble and generous women in their efforts to protect the graves and mark the last resting places of those who have fallen, and wait for better times,” Lee said in a letter to Thomas Rosser, a former Confederate general.