Murray asks Calloway to remove Lee statue

A “Confederate Soldiers” memorial bearing the likeness of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands on the lawn of the Calloway County Courthouse, where it was erected more than a century ago. The Murray City Council voted Thursday night to ask Calloway County to remove the monument.

The city of Murray sent a symbolic gesture to Calloway County officials Thursday night, voting to recommend removal of a Robert E. Lee statue that has stood for more than a century at the county courthouse.

In a unanimous vote, the city council passed a resolution requesting the Calloway County Fiscal Court “take necessary action and seek all required approvals to expeditiously remove and relocate” the statue that has come under criticism recently.

Sherman Neal, an assistant football coach at Murray State University, requested the statue’s removal at the end of May, and his cause has received support from the university, many in the community, former MSU basketball standout Ja Morant and now the city council.

Danny Hudspeth, the lone black member on the council, said Thursday that he believes removing the statue “is the right thing to do, and now is the time.”

He recognized that removal of the statue alone would not “change all hearts,” and not everyone would see a removal as a “hallelujah moment.”

“When we take it down, we know that a ray of sunshine is not going to shine on that little spot,” Hudspeth said.

“But we hope that it will give us another ray of hope, not maybe for our generation but for generations to come that we’re trying to do the right things and we’re trying to learn to live together and try to make this world a better place.”

Other council members also spoke in support of the recommendation, with Dan Miller pointing out that a monument of Kentucky-born Confederacy President Jefferson Davis has been removed in Frankfort and a statue of South Carolinian and Confederacy figurehead John C. Calhoun has been removed from Charleston.

He pointed out that Lee has no connection to Calloway County and “never set foot in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” so removing a likeness about him should not be difficult.

Other members made sure to point out that removing the statue does not mean destroying the statue, and said the resolution simply calls for relocating the monument, which, while labeled “Confederate Soldiers” does not bear the name of any particular soldier.

The monument was commissioned in 1913, around the time of the courthouse’s construction, and was installed in 1917.

The resolution points out that the era during which such monuments were constructed “by white Southerners seeking to preserve the ideology of the Confederacy” and “are widely perceived as offensive and painful public reminders of the legacy of slavery and present realities of systemic racism in our country.”

The county has not taken formal action on the statue since the issue was brought to the fiscal court last week, but County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger said he is conducting research before any official action is pursued.

Ernstberger said the ownership of the statue is in question and, being recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and by the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, the process of removing the statue won’t be simple even if the county votes to relocate it.

“Do they have the authority to do it, and if so, what steps do they take,” Ernstberger said last week.

He said he didn’t expect the fiscal court to take action until he’s completed the research they’ve asked him to conduct, but he said even once that’s completed, officials will concern themselves with “finding some kind of process to accurately measure the will of the people of Calloway County.”

“They’re cognizant of doing what their citizens want,” Ernstberger said.