About a year ago, I wrote an opinion piece regarding the Confederate Monument that currently stains the otherwise attractive University of Louisville campus. Now, over 365 days later, the monument is still there, but finally there’s some real discussion of the very real possibility of moving that offensive obelisk. So I figured I’d republish the article in its entirety so you can see if anything has changed in that time. I present it below.
The Wrong Side of History
In Charleston, South Carolina, Dyann Roof said he wanted to start a war, but what is brewing probably wasn’t what he meant. In the wake of his one-man terrorist attack on an historic church where he allegedly murdered 9 churchgoers, while wearing racist symbols, people are rethinking why racially divisive icons have been tolerated for so long.
At our own state capitol in Frankfort, the talk has begun regarding the statue of Jefferson Davis that resides in the Capitol Rotunda. For the uninitiated, Jefferson Davis served as the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. You know, that insurgency by states that wanted to continue to engage in legalized human trafficking, aka, slavery. They decided that the freely elected leader of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln, had decided to take away their right to own human beings as property. They revolted and picked a Kentucky native son to lead them.
Yes, Kentucky has a monument to the people who declared war on America. A lot, actually.
In Louisville, Councilman Tom Owens has been telling people that we should be careful when we talk about taking down the Confederate Memorial that stands on the campus of the University of Louisville. Presumably, he’s speaking as a historian and not as a government official who represents the African-Americans living in his district.
Owens says a 70-foot tall monument to hatred and bigotry has some sort of significance. Has he consulted with the black students that attend our most famous institution of higher education whether they consider it worth keeping? It’s a question worth asking since he helps set official city policy.
In the university’s defense, the Confederate obelisk didn’t originally occupy its current prominent real estate. It got moved in the 1950s due to construction on Eastern Parkway. In 2002, the tower became part of Freedom Park. On the opposite side of the park along Cardinal Boulevard, the school commemorates the leaders of Louisville’s Civil Rights Movement at a site designed by prominent local artist Ed Hamilton.
In total, 61 monuments to the Confederacy stand in Kentucky, including the Confederate Martyrs Monument in Jeffersontown and Cherokee Park’s John B. Castleman Monument.
Why all the fondness for these icons for what was essentially the American Axis of Evil? After all, during the War Between the States, Kentucky declared itself neutral at the outset, despite being a slave state. And when Confederate General Leonidas Polk tried to invade and take control of the state, Kentucky’s legislature asked the Union for help, which was provided.
The First Amendment provides Freedom of Speech to all of us so the majority of the 61 commemorations have the right to stand right where they are. Only 8 celebrate the Union. That leaves 53 as heartfelt remembrances of our dangerously racist past.
But what message is sent when the treasonous leader of an armed insurgency stands at the very heart of state government? He was born in Kentucky, but so what? He was still a traitor. Also, consider that the city of Louisville owns the Confederate Memorial. What is the city trying to say to its residents?