Why One Kentucky Town Wants To Keep Its Confederate Monument

Aug 18, 2017
Originally published on August 18, 2017 6:03 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Across the country, the debate continues over removing Confederate monuments. But one town in Kentucky is welcoming a Confederate statue. Jake Ryan of member station WFPL reports on why.

JAKE RYAN, BYLINE: Nearly every morning, a group of guys gets together at the Dairy Queen in Brandenburg to sip coffee and talk about whatever comes up. These days, it's about Charlottesville, Va., and the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally last weekend.

MIKE DUNN: I got a theory on all that, but with a eighth-grade education, your theory don't go very far.

RYAN: This is Mike Dunn. He's 73 years old. He's got on a white T-shirt, jeans and a camouflage hat and generally takes it easy.

DUNN: We've all got our gripes.

RYAN: And his gripe at least right now is with people who want to take down Confederate statues.

DUNN: Slaves helped build the White House. They going to get rid of it?

RYAN: The other guys here seem to agree. This is William Avitt. He's 69.

WILLIAM AVITT: I don't see why they're any different from any other statue. If you go get rid of them, you ought to get rid of all statues.

RYAN: And these guys are specifically fond of the new 70-foot-tall monument that sits on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Brandenburg. The monument honors Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. It was first erected in 1895 and until last year stood near the campus of the University of Louisville. For years, activists had pushed to remove it. At the time, it wasn't clear just where the statue would be going. But during a public hearing to figure that out, Brandenburg officials made it clear they wanted it.

DEBRA MASTERSON: Because we're not afraid to stand up for what we think is right and what we believe.

RYAN: This is Debra Masterson, who works in the tourism department in Brandenburg. She says the city has historical ties to the Civil War. During what's now known as Morgan's Raid, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River at Brandenberg into Indiana.

MASTERSON: And so we have this connection.

RYAN: Masterson says the city's history makes it a good spot for such a monument, and she disagrees with the belief that Confederate memorials keep alive sentiments of racism or slavery. She says it's art. They're beautiful statues, and the one in Brandenburg is bringing in tourists.

MASTERSON: And I always say that it's not about black or white. It's about the green for us because it's just been a boon for the community.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)

RYAN: The monument today sits on a grassy knoll near the Ohio River. Bronze statues of soldiers flank its sides, and another stands atop the monument, gazing South. Officials unveiled it on Memorial Day earlier this year. Some 400 people attended, including some dressed as Confederate soldiers and a band that played Dixie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIXIELAND MUSIC)

RYAN: Confederate monument expert Kirk Savage says there is a distinction between honoring these monuments in front of civic buildings and using them in historical parks like this one.

KIRK SAVAGE: I think there's definitely a place for them in the retelling of history.

RYAN: Back at the Dairy Queen, Mike Dunn says he wouldn't be surprised if the renewed attention his town is getting over its decision to host the statue means it may soon have to come down.

DUNN: Well, when they tear that down, there's going to be a lot of people coming to help them make sure it gets down.

RYAN: He says if the other Confederate monuments around the country are coming down, there's no reason this one won't, too, even if they do like it. For NPR News, I'm Jake Ryan in Brandenburg, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.