Representatives of Kentucky’s Military Heritage Commission refused to comment on the surprise removal of two Civil War monuments from downtown Lexington last month.
The statues are listed as official military heritage sites on the commission’s website. On Tuesday, the agency met for the first time since Lexington Mayor Jim Gray authorized the removal of the statues; they were later taken down under the cover of darkness.
White supremacist groups had promised to hold an opposition rally if the statues were removed, but no organized protests took place.
Gray authorized the late-night removal after Attorney General Andy Beshear issued a legal opinion saying the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over the statues.
Col. M. Blaine Hedges, chair of the Military Heritage Commission, refused to say whether the agency opposed the removal, saying he could only talk about issues listed on the meeting’s agenda.
“The reality is it wasn’t on the agenda today and so that’s really all I’ve got on that,” Hedges said after the meeting.
The statues of confederate generals John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckenridge on the lawn of the old Fayette County Courthouse have long been controversial. But they received newfound opposition in the wake of violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.
Gray called for the statues’ removal in August, and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council approved a measure to move the statues to the Lexington Cemetery.
At the time officials said that they would have to ask the Military Heritage Commission for permission first. But commission members and staff refused to say whether they supported or opposed Lexington’s actions.
Questions to the commission’s legal counsel were referred to a spokesman for the Tourism Cabinet, Cody Patterson. He also said he couldn’t talk about the issue because it wasn’t on the commission’s agenda.
“All I’m aware of at this time is what was on this agenda, and the Lexington statues were not on the commission’s agenda today and that’s all I have to say,” Patterson said.
When he was running for governor, Gov. Matt Bevin advocated for the removal of a white marble statue of Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol rotunda. He has since changed his position.
In the wake of the Charlottesville protests, Bevin said removing Confederate monuments is a “sanitization of history,” comparing it to actions conducted by authoritarian regimes.