Fiscal court unanimously opposes relocation of Confederate statue

Kevin Elliot, assistant professor of political science, gives a presentation on why the Calloway County Fiscal Court should relocate the Robert E. Lee statue. (Photo courtesy of the Calloway County Fiscal Court's livestream)

Daniella Tebib

News Editor

Despite efforts from many members of the Calloway County community to relocate the Robert E. Lee statue from the courthouse square, the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to keep the statue on Wednesday, July 15.

“The Fiscal Court of Calloway County, Kentucky hereby resolves that the Confederate monument dedicated to the remembrance of those Calloway Countians who fought in the Civil War shall remain standing upon the northeast corner of the grounds of the Calloway County Courthouse for so long as the owners of that monument and the citizens of Calloway County are inclined,” according to the resolution presented by County Attorney K. Bryan Ernstberger.

The resolution also stated if the United Daughters of the Confederacy who own the statue choose to remove it in the future, the court would help assist its relocation.

Don Cherry, magistrate of district three, said the resolution does not prevent the statue’s relocation in the future, but he feels the responsibility should remain in the hands of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Cherry also said he believes we cannot make decisions based upon “mob rule” otherwise we will lose control of our government.

Paul Rister, magistrate of district four, said he surveyed his district and 77 percent of his constituents said they want the statue to remain where it is. However, several members of the Calloway County community including Murray State, Murray State’s Assistant Football Coach Sherman Neal, Former Murray State basketball player Ja Morant, along with several departments and student-led organizations from the University have expressed their advocacy to remove the statue. 

In addition to the letters and emails that have been sent to the members of the fiscal court urging for the monument’s removal, a petition for its relocation has received almost 10,000 signatures while the petition for it to remain in the courthouse square has received almost 3,000 signatures.

Kevin Elliot, assistant professor of political science, was given an allotted time to advocate for the relocation of the statue prior to the reading of the fiscal court’s resolution. In Elliot’s presentation, he provided three main reasons why the statue should be relocated – the money it’s costing taxpayers to pay law enforcement for special protection of the monument, the possibility of destruction of the monument and the message it displays.

“This monument is bringing out the worst in our community,” Elliot said. “Peaceful protestors have been assaulted, pepper sprayed and threatened with deadly violence having a gun pointed at them. African American members of our community simply standing on a corner have been publicly called a defiling and dehumanizing term. How could this happen in the so-called ‘friendliest town of America?’”

According to the resolution, Ernstberger said the inscription on the monument indicates the purpose of the statue is to honor the Calloway Countians who fought for and died for the confederacy during the Civil War.

“This court is mindful of the negative connotations the monument may hold for some of the citizens of Calloway County and so to them and to all others, this court unreservedly condemns the past evil of slavery and the oppression of any american past, present or future based on the color of his or her skin by any individual or institution,” according to the resolution presented by Ernstberger.

In Elliot’s presentation, he also provided the means for relocating the statue including working with the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission who is willing to work with the local government of Calloway County. Elliot proposed relocating the monument to Bowman Cemetery in Murray where several Confederate veterans are interred.

“What’s needed now is a resolution from the fiscal court to set the process of relocation in motion and that directs the judge executive to take whatever steps are necessary to affect this relocation, including in working in partnership with any and all interested parties, organizations and government agencies,” Elliot said.

Members of the fiscal court questioned Elliot about the finances of the relocation and the ownership of the Bowman Cemetery.

Elliot said the financial plan would need to be discussed following the fiscal court’s decision to relocate the statue. He also said he has been looking at estimations of the weight of the monument and disassembly for the monument to be relocated. 

“Factors that led other monuments to be very expensive to relocate are not in play here,” Elliot said. “In Lexington, they had to reinforce the floors because it was inside the building. In order to get it out of there, it cost a lot of money, but ours is outdoors… Also, it was assembled pieces, so it can be disassembled in pieces which make it easier and less expensive… The issue of cost of relocation can be compared to those costs that the county and city are currently incurring to provide special protection.”

Elliot also said the Bowman Cemetery is legally abandoned, so ownership is not a concern for the relocation.

Members of Calloway County who want the statue relocated from the courthouse square are organizing a protest at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15 in response to the fiscal court’s resolution.

Stay tuned with The News as we reach out to members of the community for their reactions about the fiscal court’s decision. To watch the full meeting via livestream, click here.