The Owensboro City Commission will not allow the controversial Confederate statue seated on the grounds of the Daviess County Courthouse to be housed at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History.
As multiple possibilities surrounding the fate of the statue have made their rounds in recent weeks, one idea that has gained some backing is that the statue be placed in the museum.
However, after polling city commissioners, it was unanimously agreed upon that city officials did not want the statue at the museum, which is city property, said Mayor Tom Watson.
“We own the building, which makes it an interesting issue,” he said. “I polled the commission and it was unanimous that we felt that it would serve no purpose for it to be placed in the science museum. That was relayed to Kathy Olson (the museum’s chief executive officer) and she understands. Taking it from one government property and moving it to another doesn’t solve the issue. Judge (Al) Mattingly and I have had quite a few conversations regarding the statue and I trust the county to do the right thing and they will have my support.”
City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Pam Smith-Wright said she agrees with Watson and believes the statue should not be in a place of prominence.
“One of the major complaints is that it is on taxpayer property,” she said. “That would remain true if it was moved to the museum because it’s city property. It would be like kicking the can down the road and there will be just as many people in my opinion, that would feel that it should not go in that museum because it is being paid for by public funds.”
Despite the issue of the museum being city-owned, Smith-Wright believes the narrative of the statue needs to be shared, she said.
“I do think that it needs to be in a place where people can be educated about it because it is more than a statue, it also carries harsh meaning for people that look like me. I don’t think it should be in a place of prominence where it is worshipped ... but I don’t have a problem with people understanding what it means and how and why it is offensive to people of color. That statue has been here as long as I have been here and on that lawn. The sad part is that the powers that be in Owensboro knew then that the black population wasn’t large enough to push the issue. You have 5.5% in this whole community today and half are kids. When all this started happening, I think it sparked a fire in people that had not been there before because it had always been the good ol’ boys are doing it and we can’t fight them.”
Ultimately, Smith-Wright believes that the ultimate placement of the statue will be controversial but that the community will be judged if it can’t begin to unify on issues, specifically those that encourage community and understanding, she said.
“People that may want to relocate to a city like Owensboro are looking for diversity,” she said. “Sadly that is not well represented here. We have a diverse community, but that is not what see. We have all kinds of folks in this community and they all need to be represented. Wherever the statue goes there will be controversy because all people don’t think alike, that is why we need to discover common ground. You could put it in the cemetery, and people will be upset. Put it in the museum, people will be upset. I am all about education and if it is told correctly, then people won’t worship it as much as they do when they find out how hurtful it is to people of color.”
While honoring the city’s request, there is a level of disappointment that the museum will not be able to fulfill its “responsibility” to chronicle and provide the full history of Owensboro, Daviess County and the region, Olson said.
“Museums are the proper place for objects of that nature so that the entire comprehensive history can be told and shared,” she said. “Particularly so that the entire comprehensive history can be told and shared to help people understand a particular moment in our history. We see it as our responsibility and our duty. We exist to tell the story of this community and preserve artifacts of this community in natural history and history. In that sense, yes, we think the best home is in an institution that can provide a comprehensive overlook into what was happening then and the context of the history of then.
“There is a lot to the story of the Owensboro statue. To tell the whole story is our responsibility,” she said. “Not being able to do that is a loss for the community.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org