Politics

The removal of an honorific plaque from a statue of Jefferson Davis in the state Capitol has been delayed as officials review whether they have the authority to do so.

In response to public outcry over the statue of the Confederacy’s only president, the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted earlier this year to remove the plaque that labels Davis as “patriot — hero — statesman.”

State Curator Leslie Nigels says lawyers in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration are reviewing legislation that authorized the statue’s creation in 1931.

“Just to be assured that that is the correct status so that we’re not doing anything that might be questioned,” Nigels said.

“If not, they will give us advice on how to proceed from there because it is our intention to remove the plaque and to retain it, but to have it not in the rotunda.”

Nigels said she wasn’t aware of any threats to sue if the plaque was removed.

The 15-foot, white marble likeness of Davis was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1932 along with a $5,000 appropriation from the Kentucky legislature. In addition to serving as the president of the Confederacy, Davis was also the secretary of war during the Pierce administration and oversaw construction of the U.S. Capitol.

The statue sits in the rotunda of the state Capitol, along with notable Kentuckians Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Alben Barkley and Ephraim McDowell.

African American groups and others have for years rallied to remove the statue, citing the racist ideology of the Confederacy. In 2015, state politicians from both parties — including then-gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin — joined the effort after nine people were fatally shot at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

But that year the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted against removing the statue, instead promising to create new ways of educating Capitol visitors about Davis and “the context of the Civil War.”

Bevin has since changed his position, calling the removal of Confederate monuments a “sanitization of history.”

The Kentucky Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has denounced the pending removal of the plaque from the Davis statue.

In a resolution passed earlier this year, the United Daughters of the Confederacy said the statue’s purpose “is to honor and educate as to the higher public service of this native born son of Kentucky.”

Davis was born in Fairview in southwestern Kentucky.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.