Is There a Place for the President of the Confederacy?Breaking News
tags: memorials, Confederacy, monuments, public history, Jefferson Davis
FAIRVIEW, Ky. — Drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in western Kentucky, past Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and take a right onto Jefferson Davis Highway, and a gray spike will begin to rise in the air.
This obelisk — once described as an “immobile thrust of concrete” rising from “poverty grass” by the U.S. poet laureate Robert Penn Warren — marks the birth site of the lone president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Two-thirds the size of the Washington Monument, it was completed in 1924 and was once meant to be the crown jewel of a highway through the South that would ferry auto tourists from one Confederate monument to another. Despite Kentucky having stayed in the Union, Davis’s birth site is now a 19-acre state park that includes picnic grounds, a museum dedicated to his life and an elevator that runs to the top of the 351-foot obelisk.
That museum will soon have a new exhibit. In June, as Confederate monuments were being torn down across the country in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s killing and Breonna Taylor’s, in Louisville, the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 11-to-1 to immediately remove a 12-foot marble statue of Davis from the Kentucky Capitol rotunda in Frankfort and send it across the state to the museum at the Davis birth site in Fairview.
A similar debate has been underway in Congress. In July the House of Representatives voted to remove statues honoring Confederate figures, including one of Davis, from the U.S. Capitol. “It’s time to sweep away the last vestiges of Jim Crow and the dehumanizing of individuals because of the color of their skin,” the House majority leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, said at a news conference. But Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, is not expected to allow a vote in the Senate. He has called the push to remove the Confederate monuments in Washington an attempt to “airbrush the Capitol.”
President Donald Trump, who threatened to punish state and local governments that fail to protect them from destruction or vandalism, has defended “our beautiful” Confederate statues, proposing a grandiose statue park that will likely never be built. Caught between calls to remove statues from public view and to leave them up, officials from Florida to Indiana and from Virginia to Texas have increasingly sought to put them in existing museums they claim will give disputed monuments “context.”
But those museums often do not have the resources to change generations-old history narratives, leaving states and towns wondering if they should invest more taxpayer dollars in new museums or leave the statues as they are — and hope a lack of advertising and funding discourages people from visiting them. The effort to bring Jefferson Davis home to Fairview shows just how fraught navigating that conflict is.
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