In 2014, local citizens brought to Owensboro’s elected officials a fairness ordinance, which would add gender identification and sexual orientation to an existing law barring discrimination in housing and employment.
In 2020, the Daviess County Fiscal Court rejected that notion by majority vote, refusing to pass an ordinance to protect our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. We are grateful for the two dissenters.
There are 20 other cities and counties in Kentucky who have passed such an ordinance, making those a safer haven than Owensboro/Daviess County for people who live with constant exclusion and discrimination.
In 2012, local citizens brought to that same body of elected officials the request to relocate Confederate statue to a place conducive to a broader and more historically appropriate understanding.
In 2020 — just this past week — the Daviess County Fiscal Court rejected that notion, too, by tabling the issue until the court’s stated Aug. 6 meeting, ostensibly allowing for community members to be heard, which I believe is political-speak for delaying what is a foregone conclusion.
Minds are made up.
The majority of the Fiscal Court’s commissioners are fine with allowing propaganda that was spread across the South to remember the “Lost Cause,” which is an American pseudohistorical ideology that holds that the cause of the Confederate States during the American Civil War was a just and heroic one, even though the facts are that the Confederacy was built on and sustained by slavery.
The statues and monuments were first distributed to courthouse lawns in the South around 1900, a period in which Southern states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly-freed Black Americans and re-segregate society. The second wave happened in the early 1950s and 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists.
Say what you will, but history shows that these statues were not (only) about honoring and remembering the fallen soldiers of the South’s side of the civil war. They are about reminding Black Americans who Confederate sympathizers believe is in charge.
The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the group credited with disseminating those statues and monuments, The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), as Neo-Confederate, which the SPLC calls a “reactionary, revisionist branch of American white nationalism typified by its predilection for symbols of the Confederate States of America, typically paired with a strong belief in the validity of the failed doctrines of nullification and secession — in the specific context of the antebellum South — that rose to prominence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.”
The website of the UDC specifically denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy, while also asking that Confederate symbols no longer be used to denote such things.
But the local UDC chapter president has been quoted by the M-I as saying the NAACP has no place at the table in the discussion about where these statues should be relocated, if at all.
The NAACP was founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country. It strives still to ensure a society in which all people have equal rights without discrimination based on race.
The Daviess County Fiscal Court, in general, seems to have a different self-understanding; enacting ordinances and laws that ensure equality for “all people” is most definitely not in its mission statement.
A fairness ordinance would not have ever hurt anyone. Instead, it would protect those vulnerable to discrimination.
Removing the statue and other monuments sympathetic to the Confederacy will never hurt anyone. Instead it will provide some measure of peace in the minds of those whose ancestors were enslaved, abused, raped, tortured, and killed because they have more pigment in their skin and didn’t have money or muskets.
To the white men who sit on the Daviess County Fiscal Court, for God’s sake, relocate the statue. There are other places for that, places like battlefields and cemeteries.
The Confederates lost their rebellion. Thousands of soldiers — Black and white — in the armed forces of the United States died to protect this country from that rebellion. It dishonors them to celebrate the men who killed them and who tried to destroy the nation.
The values of the Confederacy — open and unrepentant white supremacy and total disregard for the humanity of Black people — to the extent they still exist, have produced tragedy and discord.
There is no path to a peaceful country without rejecting that as a basis for our society.
Let’s keep it simple.
Most of us (horrifically, not all) agree that the Holocaust was among the worst imaginable genocidal tragedies in world history, and that Naziism is to be rejected at all costs.
When deciding what to do with any monument to our nation’s slave past, we should emulate the way Germans treat Nazi memorials.
There aren’t any.
Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Nazi armed forces, however many grandfathers, husbands, and sons fought or died for them.
Instead, it has a dizzying array of monuments to the victims of its murderous racism.
How will you vote, commissioners, when the NAACP commissions a sculptor to forge a statue of a white plantation owner murderously beating a Black slave child?
Will it be on the corner of Frederica and 2nd?
Or will it go in the woods behind the one-room Rosenwald School house at Yellow Creek, where the Black children were made to go?
This is a not even an issue.
But if the right thing is once again rejected like the Fairness Ordinance was, I hope the local electorate will make it one, and will vote to be sure it remains one, until that day when finally we own up to our tragic past, remove the statue, and say we are sorry.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. He also co-created and cohosts “You’ll Die Trying,” a podcast available everywhere. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.