FRANKFORT — A state panel that controls the fate of a controversial Jefferson Davis statue in Kentucky’s Capitol rotunda will meet Thursday to begin discussing where the Tennessee marble likeness of the Confederate president and Kentucky native should stand.
The 14-member Historic Properties Advisory Commission is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. at Berry Hill Mansion in Frankfort.
Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said Wednesday that the agenda of the commission’s regular quarterly meeting was changed to accommodate Gov. Steve Beshear’s request Tuesday to review the statues displayed in the Capitol.
The commission’s work comes as a growing number of politicians calls for moving the statue to a museum.
Politicians who joined that chorus Wednesday included Attorney General Jack Conway, who is running for governor as the Democratic nominee; state House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg; the three members of the state Senate Democratic leadership; and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.
On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville, Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin and Republican state Senate President Robert Stivers said they favored removing the statue.
The outcry concerning the statue, which has been heard in Kentucky for years, was revived by last week’s shooting deaths of nine black people at a Charleston, S.C., church.
Kentucky Revised Statute 11.027 gives the Historic Properties Advisory Commission “final authority over articles” placed in the Capitol, Trautner said. The state Division of Historic Properties will act on any recommendation from the commission, she said. Both agencies are housed in the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.
“The division will do what the commission says,” said Trautner, noting that it has never removed a statue or monument from the Capitol.
Although the Capitol is on the National Register of Historic Places, Trautner said the rules that accompany that designation should not be a barrier if the commission decides to remove the Jefferson statue.
In a statement Tuesday, Beshear said it was time to reconsider the statues in the Capitol, as each statue has been in place for more than 50 years.
Beshear noted that the Davis statue is in a corner while a larger statue of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is in the center of the rotunda. Other statues in the chamber are of former Vice President Alben Barkley, 19th-century statesman Henry Clay and frontier surgeon Ephraim McDowell.
Beshear said the Davis statue “hasn’t been used in the same way as the Confederate flag,” but added that “a broader discussion of the statue’s position in the Capitol is due.”
Beshear urged the historic properties commission to seek public input and the advice of historians on all the art displayed in the rotunda “in order to consider the necessary historic, social and educational context of these monuments.”
The commission is chaired by Steve Collins, the son of former Democratic Gov. Martha Layne Collins. Members include state curator David Buchta; Kent Whitworth, director of the Kentucky Historical Society; and Ann Evans, director of the Governor’s Mansion. First lady Jane Beshear is an honorary member.
The governor did not give the commission any deadline for its review, but Beshear leaves office in early December.
The Jefferson Davis statue was unveiled Dec. 10, 1936, during the first administration of Democratic Gov. Albert B. “Happy” Chandler. It is the work of Frederick Cleveland Hibbard, a Chicago-based sculptor from Missouri who was known for his Civil War memorials that commemorate both the Union and Confederate causes. Hibbard also carved a statue of Davis that is on the grounds of the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.
His Kentucky statue was erected under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a national association of female descendants of Confederate veterans. No one from the organization returned a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
The statue was paid for largely with private donations, but the state legislature appropriated $5,000 for it in 1934.
Conway said Wednesday that he thought the Jefferson statue “belongs in a museum, where history is taught, rather than in the state Capitol, where laws are made, where rights are upheld and where we strive for equal justice under the law.”
Stumbo, the House speaker, said the decision rested with the Historic Properties Advisory Commission, “but I have no objection to removing the statue of Jefferson Davis and placing it at the Center for Kentucky History.”
The three state Senate Democratic leaders — floor leader Ray Jones of Pike ville, caucus chairman Gerald Neal of Louisville and caucus whip Julian Carroll of Frankfort — said in a statement that the statue should not be in the Capitol rotunda but should be placed in “a proper historical context.”
“But more importantly, we — as a state and nation — must correct this legacy of racism that continues to undermine our highest values — fairness and justice,” they said.
Barr said he concurred “in the judgment of state leaders who have called for the statue of Jefferson Davis to be relocated out of the state Capitol building to another location.”
His comments drew nearly 200 responses within five hours when he posted his statement on his Facebook page. The majority were critical, with some calling Barr a “traitor.”
If the advisory commission decides to remove the Davis statue, the panel might not recommend a replacement.
State rules limit statues in the rotunda to people who have been dead at least 40 years, according to Buchta, the state curator. Among those mentioned as possible honorees are some who are living. The names include heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali of Louisville, former U.S. Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Somerset, explorer Daniel Boone, former Gov. Collins of Shelby County, and novelist Robert Penn Warren of Todd County.
By Jack Brammer