Politics

A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis will remain in the Kentucky Capitol building rotunda, a state commission decided on Wednesday.

The Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted to keep the statue despite calls for its removal from multiple state leaders, including Gov. Steve Beshear, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor.

The commission also voted to create a committee charged with increasing efforts to educate Capitol visitors about the historical context of the statues in the building.

“I hope the message that was sent was that we have a lot of educational work to do and that we do believe that the history is important, but that we also believe that we need to explain the context of the Civil War with respect to that statue being in the rotunda,” said commission chairman Steve Collins.

Kentucky NAACP President Raoul Cunningham said he was disappointed in the historic properties commission’s decision.

“I don’t think you need a statue of Hitler in the state Capitol to discuss the ills of Nazism or the Holocaust,” Cunningham said.

He said the commission “whitewashed” the issue by voting to add the educational component.

Calls to remove the statue began after nine people were fatally shot in June inside a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The incident prompted several state governments in the South to reevaluate Confederate symbols on state properties.

In June, Beshear asked the commission to review whether the Davis statue should remain in the rotunda. The rotunda has multiple statues of prominent Kentuckians, including President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Alben Barkley and physician Ephraim McDowell.

The Davis statue was commissioned in 1932 using funds appropriated by the Kentucky legislature.

According to a Bluegrass Poll released this week, 73 percent of Kentucky voters support keeping the Davis statue in the rotunda.

About 1,800 public comments submitted online to the commission were supportive of keeping the Davis statue in the Capitol; 1,225 wanted the statue removed, according to the commission.

The commission also received 250 phone calls from people expressing opinions about the statue; fewer than 20 supported removal.

In a statement, Gov. Steve Beshear didn’t voice his opinion on the statue but applauded the commission’s decision to educate Capitol visitors.

“While many Kentuckians feel that it would be preferable for the Jefferson Davis statue to be in a museum setting, the addition of this educational and historical context is critical,” Beshear said in the statement.

“The generations to come must understand the enormous toll of the Civil War that tore apart this nation and the tragic issue of slavery at the root of that war.”

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