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Billy Reed: Finally, at long last, Jefferson Davis’ statue out of Rotunda. Bring on Muhammad Ali

So the statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, finally is being removed from the rotunda of the Kentucky state capital building. Gov. Andy Beshear made the announcement on Thursday, June 12, giving credit to the Historic Properties Advisory Commission for acting “pursuant to my request.”

I had to smile because on June 6, 2016, in a column for a Louisville television website, I had suggested it was time to remove the statue of Davis, a symbol of racism, and replace it with one of Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion who probably did even more than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to battle racism around the world.

Unsurprisingly, my suggestion got no traction in Frankfort. The statue of Davis was left in place along with one of Abraham Lincoln, which occupied a special place in the rotunda’s center. Besides the Davis statue, there were three others honoring Dr. Ephraim McDowell, a pioneer in medicine; Alben Barkley, Vice-President under President Harry S. Truman; and Henry Clay, the famed “Great Compromiser” of the early 1800s.

No person of color. No woman. No excuse.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

But then came 2020 and the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed and defenseless black man, by Minneapolis police. And then there was Breonna Taylor of Louisville, murdered in her bed at home by Louisville police with a “no-knock” warrant. And suddenly another Civil War was raging from coast to coast, with millions of protestors gathering in cities large and small to say “enough” to racism at all levels of our society.

The protests began to target past racism, demanding that statues of Confederate generals be removed and that military bases named for them be re-named. And then it dawned on Gov. Beshear to it was time – way past time, really – for the statue of Jefferson Davis to be removed from the rotunda.

So a little more than four years after my column was published, government did what I recommended. The next question is: What distinguished Kentucky should have a statue of him or her to replace it?

I don’t see how government cannot take the rest of my advice and move in a statue of Muhammad Ali. Although some redneck legislators won’t like it, they have to accept it. Ali was beloved by millions around the world. He got in America’s face and made everyone deal with racism. His statue simply has to be the replacement for Jefferson Davis.

Nothing against McDowell, Barkley or Clay, all distinguished Kentuckians, but I would replace one of them with the statue of a woman. My pick would be singer Loretta Lynn, a country-music icon who was one of Kentucky’s greatest ambassadors. But I also could live with Martha Layne Collins, still the commonwealth’s only female governor, or Rosemary Clooney, a popular singer and actress in the 1940s and ‘50s (think “White Christmas.”)

Or how about Whitney Young Jr., the native of Shelby County who turned the Urban League into a powerful nation anti-racism and specialized in working to end employment discrimination throughout the U.S.

Or maybe A.B. “Happy” Chandler and Pee Wee Reese, the Kentuckians who did more than anyone to help Jackie Robinson break major-league baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Then the game’s commissioner, Chandler defied the big-league owners, who had voted 15 to 1 against letting the Brooklyn Dodgers sign Robinson. The team captain was Reese, who protected Robinson and demanded that the rest of the team accept him as a teammate.

One person who should never even be considered for the honor is Mitch McConnell. Sure, he has been a U.S. Senator since 1984 and Majority Leader since 2015. But he has brought only disgrace to Kentucky by the ultra-partisan way he has done his job. I would argue that only Donald Trump has violated our Constitution more brazenly than McConnell.

Matt Bevin was Governor when I wrote that 2016 column. I didn’t expect anything from him since he was an ally of Trump and McConnell. But I wish somebody in Frankfort had taken up the fight to say bye-bye to the Davis statue.

I guess it shows that a lot of politicians will do the right thing only when they must.

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One Comment

  1. Joan Gregory says:

    Sorry, but it is time for a woman to get a statue amongst all the men who own 100% ofthe spaces. There are plenty to celebrate as none now exist. We could start with Georgia Powers….

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