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Kentucky panel votes to remove Davis statue from Capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. – A Kentucky commission voted Friday to take down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol, adding its voice to a global push to remove symbols of racism and slavery.

The Historic Properties Advisory Commission met remotely through video teleconferencing at the request of Gov. Andy Beshear and then voted 11-1 to move the 15-foot (4.5-meter) marble statue of Davis to a state historic site in southern Kentucky where the Confederate leader was born. The commission is responsible for statues in the state Capitol.

“When I see the Jefferson Davis statue in my state Capitol, and knowing our history, I can’t find a lot of reasons to honor this man in that way," said commissioner member Cathy Thomas, adding that he “enslaved human beings" and “rebelled against the United States of America."

Relocating the Davis statue means it will no longer share space in the ornate Capitol Rotunda with a statue of Abraham Lincoln, his Civil War adversary and the president who freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were Kentucky natives.

State workers were seen doing prep work Friday for the statue's removal from the Rotunda, but it wasn't immediately clear when it would go.

The panel's vote came two days after another Davis statue was toppled by protesters in Virginia. It comes amid a reignited effort to pull down Confederate monuments around the U.S. after the deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. A black man in Minnesota, George Floyd, died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him down by putting his knee on Floyd's neck.

In Louisville, protesters have demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home in March. The African American EMT was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her door while attempting to enforce a search warrant. No drugs were found.

Beshear, who said he expected the commission to remove the statue from the Capitol Rotunda, called it an historic day after the vote. The Democratic governor has referred to the statue as a divisive symbol that needed to go.

“It was past time for this vote and for this action," Beshear said in a statement. “But what it will mean is that ... every child who walks into this Capitol feels welcome, and none of them have to look at a symbol and a statue that stands for the enslavement of their ancestors."

The Davis statue has stood in the Kentucky statehouse since 1936. It occupied a corner of the Rotunda near a bronze likeness of Lincoln. Their statues are among several on display in the Rotunda, a popular place for rallies when the legislature is in session.

Advocates have for years been asking state officials to remove the Davis statue. In 2018, officials removed a plaque declaring the only president of the Confederacy to be a “Patriot-Hero-Statesman.”

Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War and did not secede from the Union, though some of its citizens owned slaves and Kentuckians fought on both sides of the conflict. The statue was placed in the Capitol during a time of Jim Crow segregation to maintain white rule, Thomas said during the commission's discussion.

“It’s purpose was clear in the 1930s as it is today," she said. “The statue was placed to reaffirm a legacy of white supremacy ... during a time when black Kentuckians lived with threats of violence and lynchings and a system of segregation that denied us basic rights as American citizens.”

Voting against the statue's removal, commission member Brandon Wilson said: “I came on this board with the intent to protect history. I didn’t come on the board to remove history. ... I understand that it’s tough history.”

Wilson said he sees the push to move the Davis statue as a “cultural movement trying to suppress” history. He accused the governor of “politicizing” the issue and “using our board as a weapon” to achieve an agenda. He said the proximity of the Davis and Lincoln statues offered the chance for a “great teaching moment” for visitors to the Capitol.

The commission called for the statue to be moved to the Jefferson Davis Historic Site, where Davis was born. The site features a 351-foot monument and a museum, according to a state website.