Local pastors petition Fiscal Court to remove Confederate statue on courthouse grounds

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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A group of Jessamine County pastors is working together to remove and relocate the confederate statue on the Jessamine County Fiscal Court front lawn.

The pastors are advocating to keep the statue intact and move it to Maple Grove Cemetery, a white cemetery where many civil war soldiers are buried. 

This statue, erected in 1896, was initially depicted as a Union soldier, and according to the Winchester Sun, was only changed when a Southern heritage group bought the statue and altered it slightly so that the statue soldier’s knapsack and belt buckle depicted the Confederate States of America emblem. 

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The 18-foot-tall statue faces Main Street as if to welcome residents and visitors to the county. It also faces Nichoalsville’s historically black neighborhood, Hervey Town. 

The removal of this statue is no recent effort. This diverse group of spiritual leaders has been building fellowship between each other and discussing this statue -and the topic of anti-Blackness- since 2020. 

How the group formed

Pastor Moses Lee Radford, who started preaching at the 177-year-old First Baptist Church in 1991, began rounding up Black spiritual leaders after the murder of George Floyd in late May 2020.

Radford said this death “Sparked a lot of concern across the country, not just with George Floyd, but other Black people killed by police, all by white men. Like the young guy (Ahmaud Arbery) who was chased down like he was a deer or something.” 

Praying that nothing like this would happen in Jessamine County, Radford held a few meetings with Black pastors around the county. After those first few meetings in July 2020, the group decided to open up to white pastors. 

The diverse group agreed that Floyd’s murder was inhumane. They then went into the topic of the Confederate statue on the courthouse lawn. “I said, well, a young lady started a petition about the statue being removed.” Radford said, “What about we, as a group of spiritual leaders in the county, join in and try to make this happen?” 

Jenna Sparks was 15 in the early summer of 2020 when she launched an online petition to take down the statue. Radford said the group should join her effort instead of “reinventing the wheel.”

Most of the spiritual leaders agreed to support Sparks, interested in working together to remove the statue, but Radford said there was some opposition. 

Radford told the group, “Let me give y’all some history.” He said, “My great-grandfather’s father was a white master, and I asked the group, ‘Do you think his mother purposely laid down to be impregnated by the white master?’ You could hear a pin fall.” Someone in the room responded no, and Radford continued, “I said, ‘What do we call that? It’s called rape. Since the Confederate statue is a piece of history of this country, and it’s okay to keep it up in that yard, let’s put a statue up in the courthouse yard of a slave woman being raped by the white master. Let’s put that in the courthouse yard so everybody could see it. I said that is history for real.” Someone in the room, Radford recalls, said no, they wouldn’t like that and called this hypothetical statue offensive. Radford responded, “That’s real history, though. Like that’ll be offensive to the white community, how much more offensive is that statue to the black community? Saying that whites are superior and Blacks are inferior? Saying that white supremacy is it? Is it okay to enslave the Black man? To say, ‘Y’all are beneath us.’ And with the Jim Crow laws- whites only, coloreds only, All that. That’s very offensive to us.” This conversation was the beginning of the Black pastors in the group opening up – telling the others how they’ve been treated just by being Black in America.

This was an eye-opener for a few white pastors who initially opposed the statue’s relocation.

“One of the main things we’ve been working on all along is the relationships, the appreciation of each other’s differences.” The group still meets today, not just in formal meetings. Since the beginning, they have encouraged each other to meet in between meetings to get to know each other. “The blood of Christ is deeper and more important than the skin color of a person. So this person knows Jesus, I know Jesus, and we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. So I thank God for the white brothers who have taken such stands in their churches. So it’s been very helpful. Some people really desire to continue the conversations. And we need to, honestly, we really do.” 

The group made a request to the fiscal court to consider removing the statue in 2020. According to the Journal’s reporting, the Fiscal Court kept the statue and never made an official decision. In 2020, Judge West said, “It’s so identified with our courthouse that moving it would seem to leave a void, but we certainly don’t want to have anything here that creates a divide.”

In a recent interview with Judge West, I asked why nothing came from the 2020 request; he said, “Well, COVID hit was one thing, and you weren’t allowed to meet together.” 

Judge West said the Fiscal Court had gotten a letter in 2020 explaining that Sparks’ online petition included signatures from people across the nation, and he said that any input must come from the residents of Jessamine County. This year, Judge West, there will be a “good round of discussions, not just the pastor’s group, but a community group.” 

Present Day

The group of pastors never disbanded – they kept meeting to discuss the statue and connect. Pastor Radford and Judge West also continued meeting throughout the years, discussing the statue. 

In June 2023, the conversation returned to the public. John Mark Vanderpool, the son of Pastor Max Vanderpool of Generations Community Church, created a short movie about the group of pastors, which includes his father. 

Soon after the video came out, Pastor Radford and Judge West began speaking again for the first time in 2023. Pastor Radford said their conversation was “very productive. What I gathered from him then, he saw more of what we (the spiritual leaders) were saying about how it ought to be removed because of what it stands for.” Radford continued, explaining that when the statues went up across the country, “It went up to intimidate Black people across the country and to remind them, ‘You’re still not equal with us.'”

Pastor Radford said that after his conversation with Judge West and the group’s plan to get the Confederate Statue on the Fiscal Court’s meeting docket, he feels hopeful about the situation. 

“I think everybody wants a good resolution. What that looks like yet, it may be one thing to one person, one thing to another person, but I want everybody to operate with decency and respect. I’d like for Jessamine County people to deal with this because I think Jessamine County people are up to addressing this in a civil manner, in a manner that’s good for everybody.” Judge West said.

Fiscal Court Meeting

Community members for and against the removal of Jessamine County’s confederate statue filled up the courtroom for the Tuesday, June 20 Fiscal Court meeting to speak during the public comment section of the meeting. 

Pastor Radford was the first to speak to the Fiscal Court, making an official request to the fiscal court. 

“We are petitioning that this statue be removed from the courthouse lawn, and it ought to be placed in the Maple Grove cemetery per our request because we do not need in our face any reminders that African Americans were mistreated and less than human beings in many cases, and not equal to European americas. We are petitioning our Judge and Magistrates to strongly consider this request from the spiritual leaders of Jessamine County.”

Although the room was full of individuals happy to speak up in support of Radford’s request, there were also folks on the other side of the argument who made their voices heard at the podium, like Civil War Enthusiast and Volunteer for the Republican Party of Jessamine County, Bob Barney, who wants to leave the statue “as is.”

“I’ve watched the video produced by the ministers who are today lobbying you to remove the confederate statue from the courthouse yard. They want you to remove it because they say they are offended. As a Christian, many things in our society offend me. I see moral decay everywhere,” Barney said. “Public schools are being used to indoctrinate children with all manner of non-Christian ideals. Have these ministers organized to oppose that? The ten commandments are not allowed to be displayed in public places because they are religious. Are these ministers offended by that? Probably not, because they have bought into the myth about the separation of church and state. And here they are, religious leaders, telling our political leaders that they are offended by a statute that is a memorial to dead Confederate soldiers.” 

Barney also suggested a county-wide referendum.

”Put the matter of the statue’s removal onto the next election ballot and ask the people what they want,” Barney said.

Anna Baker said she had lived here for 53 years and had always seen the statue but never actually thought of it as being a Black versus white issue or a Democratic versus Republican issue. 

“To me, it reminds me of all the soldiers in the war that fought and died. I’m sorry that it offends people, but you know, that’s part of life. Apparently, they’re taking out part of history, and it’s a sad part of our American history. Yes, it was wrong. My family, as far as I’m aware, never owned any slaves, thank God, but that’s something that we should all learn about and move on and never have that happen again.” Baker said, “My vote is to keep the statue there. We all need to look at it and remember all, Black or white soldiers that died in the war.”

“I, too, am a member of the spiritual leadership of the county,” said Wilmore resident Glen Spann who is a local pastor and a retired Asbury College history professor. His academic emphasis was on American religious history as well as the history of the American antebellum south.

“I would like to suggest that those who are offended and concerned about a confederate memorial on our courthouse grounds do something constructive, perhaps along the lines of raising the money for a Union memorial to be placed, perhaps, on the courthouse grounds,” Spann said. “Many people have said that Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the war, due to the outrageous policies of the reconstruction government and other issues that many Kentuckians wish that Kentucky had succeeded and that explains the great preponderance of confederate memorials in the state as opposed to union memorials.”

“The best scholarship in American Civil War history has demonstrated, conclusively, that the soldiers who fought in the Confederate army did not fight to defend slavery, they fought to defend their homes,” Spann said.

Carolyn Dupont is a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University. Her area of expertise as a historian is religious history, the Antebellum South, and the Reconstruction period. Dupont said that Kentucky has been telling an alternative story about the Confederacy and that each semester she has students in her class that believe that Kentucky joined the Confederacy. 

“A number of people have mentioned Union and Confederate soldiers from Kentucky, but in fact, five times as many Kentuckians served the Union as the Confederacy. And then I’d like to offer another fact that I think is not represented by that statue, and that is that there is no question that the Confederacy stood for one thing. And that is the preservation of slavery. Now, I hold in my hand a copy of the Mississippi Declaration of Succession, and if you don’t believe me if you want another interpretation of why the South succeeded, let me tell you what the third line of the Mississippi Declaration of Succession says, it says, ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with slavery.’ The Vice President of the Confederacy gave a speech not long after the inauguration of Lincoln, in which he said that the great cornerstone, and I apologize for the offensiveness of what I’m about to say, ‘The central truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man.’ So these are the facts of history,” Dupont said. 

Pastor Radford hopes to see this item on the Fiscal Court meeting docket soon. First, Judge West said the court will have conversations about the statue outside the Fiscal Court meetings.