Relocate the Jessamine Confederate Monument

The scaffolding has recently been taken down from the courthouse in downtown Nicholasville as the Jessamine County structure’s significant renovation nears completion.

Part of the renovation included a complete restoration of the Lady of Justice statues which again stand atop the courthouse holding in her hand the scales of justice.

But the courthouse renovation should be viewed as incomplete. There remains one more item that requires completion: removal of the Confederate Monument.

A renovated Lady Justice before installation atop the courthouse. Doug Fain.

Jessamine’s Confederate Monument

The Confederate Monument standing on the courthouse lawn in downtown Nicholasville is significant and imposing. The seven-foot tall soldier stands upon an even taller 11-foot base. It is, by far, the largest monument at the historic courthouse.

Jessamine Confederate Monument. Author’s collection.

The courthouse lawn, like the capitol in Frankfort, is a place where we honor and glorify. These are places where laws are written and enforced. Because we, as a nation, believe in equal justice under the law it is not right for our symbols in this important spaces to honor and glorify bias or prejudice.

So what does the Jessamine Confederate Monument honor and glorify?

Its base contains various inscriptions which memorialize that ‘Lost Cause’ telling of history. Among the most offensive is this one: “Nor braver bled for brighter land nor brighter land had a cause so grand.” The words do nothing but glorify the South and the systemic racism with which our nation still struggles.

It does not belong on the lawn of a county’s seat of justice. It does not belong on the lawn of my county’s seat of justice.

Inscription on the base of the Jessamine Confederate Monument. Author’s collection.

Most curiously, the statue was originally that of a Union soldier to be located in an Ohio town. That town, however, could not raise the necessary funds. The Jessamine County association purchased the statue from the stone company for $1,500 and the belt buckle was modified from ‘USA’ to ‘CSA’.

As the largest monument at the courthouse, the glorification of the Confederacy (which fought against the United States) diminishes others who are honored for their service in the Revolutionary War. Other conflicts in which Jessamine Countians fought for the United States are not recognized by monuments on the lawn. Yet, those who fought against the United States receive oversized glory.

A Lynching at the Monument

The Confederacy stood to retain an economic system that enslaved Black Americans. Jim Crow kept a knee upon the necks of freed African-Americans after Reconstruction hurriedly ended with the Compromise of 1877. The Ku Klux Klan intimidated. Justice was denied and unequally applied. It is a stained history that America has not overcome.

One of the worst symbols of this systemic mistreatment exists at the end of a rope thrown over the branch of a tree. Six years after the Confederate Monument was dedicated on the courthouse lawn and only feet away from that monument, a lynching occurred. The date was February 6, 1902. A 19-year-old black man, accused of assaulting a white woman, was seized by a mob of some 200 people from the local jail. On the courthouse lawn in the shadow of the Confederate Monument, the mob lynched Thomas Brown in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

Newspaper Headline. EJI.

Relocation or Removal

When the monument was dedicated in 1896, it was done to memorialize the Confederate soldiers who had been disinterred from Camp Nelson and reburied at Maple Grove Cemetery just down Main Street in Nicholasville. It would seem altogether fitting for the statue to be relocated there to the cemetery.

Such a move would follow what happened in Lexington with the relocation of the John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan statues from the courthouse lawn to the Lexington Cemetery. As a result, the monument could still tell a history (hopefully one that has been appropriately contextualized), but in a place that does not cause the monument to function as a state-sanctioned glorification of the Confederacy.

The courthouse is a county-owned property and governed by the county’s fiscal court. Maple Grove Cemetery is city-owned. Both would need to consent to the relocation of the statue. And, of course, funding (or donated services) would need to be secured to remove and relocate the statue.

The monument is, however, protected by state law. The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission serves as the gatekeeper against any listed site being “damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered” without the Commission’s written consent. Removal of the statue, or relocation to Maple Grove Cemetery, would require approval from the Military Heritage Commission.

My own arc toward justice

First, I must make my own confession. In 2014, I wrote columns for The Jessamine Journal. In one, I recognized the statue without appropriate context. I didn’t fully consider the impact the statue might have on black defendant seeking their own justice. Or of the inherent discrimination standing in front of the very source of our county’s judicial system. The presence of the Confederate Monument on the ground contradicts the existence of Lady Justice on the roof. I should have, but did not, write the column you are now reading in 2015. Then, however, I called for the removal of the statues in front of the Fayette County Courthouse. I should have written a different column in 2014 and I should have written another in 2015; I regret having waited another five years to write this one. But today, I write that the Confederate Monument on Jessamine County’s courthouse lawn needs to be removed.

The article I wrote in 2014 quoted Col. Bennett H. Young. Young wrote the definitive history on Jessamine County in 1898 and was present at the 1896 dedication of the statue. He was a Confederate veteran who found the statue the “handsomest” in the county. Young was leading an effort to tell the story of the Confederacy, and all it stood for, through the innocent sounding ‘Lost Cause’ mantra.

Colonel Young had his own agenda, however. Though he wrote a definitive history for the county, his own past identified him as one who fought against the United States during the Civil War. By glorifying a ‘Lost Cause,’ he was part of the effort to rewrite history. It is now time to make sure that our history is properly told.

Today’s Jessamine County

Last Saturday, a Black Lives Matter protest rally was held in front of the courthouse on Main Street in Nicholasville. This coming Saturday, similar events are being planned in both Nicholasville and Wilmore.

Across the Commonwealth, similar protest rallies are occurring in surprising places. The national and international rage over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others is being felt here in Jessamine County. There is a sense of urgency to do what is right. In Jessamine County, one step toward righting centuries of wrong is to no longer glorify systemic racism in the heart of our city in front of the courthouse. The Jessamine Confederate Monument must be removed.

There will be opposition, some of it angry opposition, to the statue’s removal. The newly restored statue of Lady Justice must be the symbol of what we pursue in Jessamine County: that simple creed upon which our nation was founded “that all … are created equal.” Some opponents will say that history is being whitewashed by the statue’s removal; to the contrary, the ‘Lost Cause’ sought to revise history a century ago. The statue must be removed from the courthouse lawn because what it represents is not justice.

Black Lives Matter Rally in Nicholasville on 6 June 2020. The Confederate Monument is in the upper-right of the image’s background. Jessamine in the Raw.

32 thoughts on “Relocate the Jessamine Confederate Monument”

      1. Really? The American Confederacy is Not Dead! And has never been dead. If it was to die: There would be NO more USA! What You see as Northerns, in fact, MANY WERE WEALTHY Southners. Deceit is the American Game. How would YOU Respond, if the president SUSPENDED THE CONSTITUTION AND PLACED THE ENTIRE USA UNDER HIS ” MILITARY RULE” Then he raised an UNION ARMY AGAINST ALL OF AMERICAN CITIZENS? Because He could Not win their WEALTH in the Congress and Senate by not allowing the Southern States Representaties, to participate in the Law making process. SInce, the Southern States Representatives were NOT ALLOWED A VOICE IN THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT. THEY GOT UP AND WENT HOME.

        Lincoln Ordered his Union Army to confiscate the wealthy Southerners property, on a trumped up charge they were deliquent on their taxes, that they had paid as many as 3 times. The union Army jailed THEM indefinitely and executed some. Especially the Southern states Representatives, that had set in the congress against him.Since their was No more Constitution! These people had NO “DUE PROCESS OF LAW”, Therefore, these Southern property owners. Had No RECOURSE!
        WITH THE CONSTITUTION GONE, THE SOUTHERNERS SEEN it AS THE USA CEASED TO EXSIST! Therefore, When they defended their homes and families from an UNION ARMY INVASION, THEY COMMITTED NO TREASON! What length would you go through to protect your family???.
        Kentucky’s son John Hunt Morgan is worth his weight in gold.. Morgan was a master in DECEIT IN PROTECTING THE COMMON KENTUCKY FAMILY. God Bless JOHN HUNT MORGAN!! And everything he did.

        It’s over due IN TELLING THE TRUTH IN AMERICAN HISTORY!

    1. You pompous prig. It is NOT talking slavery, it is talking about LAND. There is no land fairer or greener in the North than there is in the south. No piece of earth has fed as many people as the South. I have been a Northerner all my life, ancestors since the ride over, but my heart is in the South, not because racism. Only because of the trials and tribulations of life. The upside the downs. They way true Southerners come together in hurricanes, twisters, fires everything. From their wonderful accents to soundness and gentle heart. How quickly we forget were all AMERICANS. Listen to Chris LeDeux “I believe in America’s it will surprise you. If anything historical placards should be added around the base of the statute detailing the Confederacy surrender, the horrible way women were treated after the civil war by men both black and white, the suferage movement that finally allowed women to vote was peaceful, the horrible way race was treated, the protest stated by Rosa Parks that ignited the civil rights PEACEFUL protests, the changes in civil rights still on going, Our President funding profoundly black colleges not for each year, but for 10, the willingness of current law enforcement to root out racists in their departments (trust their not easy to find, but fired when found) and the last plaque on this display should be the burning, looting, rioting showing how “foolish” our ancestors were when they peacefully protested and changed America. Show them how the generations before, who sacrificed more then us that they we’re so very wrong with their peaceful protests

  1. If removed, a plaque should be mounted stating what was removed, relocation place, and reason for the action taken. I have 6 ancestors who fought for the north. I also earned a MA in American History. While the CSA and its ethics was wrong, we cannot erase and modify what happened. Too many died, starved, suffered disease. Remember that most southerners didn’t own slaves. They enlisted to satisfy the directives of the too powerful elites who did.

  2. Some Confederate soldiers were sons and grandsons of Revolutionary War veterans. Many Confederates believed and likely errorenously(sic) believed that their cause was somehow a return to America to its original form. I hate the entire concept of Owning a person and racism. It is a blemish on our history. It is sad to see that the Civil War of our 3rd great parents and the Civil Rights movement in most of our lifetimes has not led to real resolve and healing. Maybe this is a step closer to resolve. Perhaps, Nicholasville can take notes from the Lexington play and repeat the same. I was not first in favor of removing the Morgan and Breckinridge statues from the old Courthouse lawn however I think of how it has saved my city from worse violence and rioting and toppling of those statues as seen across the country. Maybe the County of Jessamine and the City of Nicholasville can come to and agreement to move the statue to Maple Grove. I also hope that noted that it was moved and proper contextualization be cited in its ultimate location. Thanks, Peter .

    1. My understanding is that current county leadership wants to keep the statue where it stands and to add some additional signage. I favored the relocation of Morgan and Breckinridge because of where the statues were located (visitors center — not the message we want to send), but am especially glad that we were able to find a solution in Lexington that seems to sufficiently satisfy all involved.

  3. Learn history; don’t erase it! Confederate gave their life’s for what they believed in. Some of these monuments are the only memorials they have and should be protected! Be proud of our country & it’s history!

    1. I don’t believe moving or even removing a monument from the courthouse lawn erases history. Our history remains – both the good and the bad of it – but the question becomes what do we wish to glorify through the construction and retention of our monuments? I am in no way taking a position by some to seemingly remove all vestiges of the past and I believe my writings make that position clear, but there are some that should be removed and/or relocated. This monument on the courthouse lawn is one of them.

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  5. I am opposed to removing statues for politically correct reasons or otherwise. The presence of historical statues has not in the least bit hindered the Racial progress achieved in this country since the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Legislation in the ‘60’s. America is not a racist nation but we do still have problems with racism but we continue to work to solve those problems. I’ll warrant the majority of JC citizens were unaware of who the statue represented, other than brave soldiers who gave their lives for a cause, right or wrong. One could make the argument that soldiers fighting for any cause, even keeping our freedom, were on the wrong side because war is abhorrent. I am not making that argument but I’m sure some would.

    My solution is to erect another statue of a Union soldier and a plaque telling both the side of the North and Of the South in the Civil War. Students today are woefully uneducated on the history of our country. This could be both a history lesson and a lesson in the preservation of historical statues.

    I lived in Lexington at the time the two historical statues were removed. It was an outrageous reaction to an agenda-driven movement aimed to erase the history we don’t like and replace it with one that we do. It goes without saying those who don’t learn from history and remember history are doomed to repeat it.

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