The Tennessee attorney serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit over ownership of the Confederate statue on the Daviess County Courthouse lawn has argued similar disputes in North Carolina.
H. Edward Phillips III, of Franklin, Tennessee, said he was hired by the Kentucky Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to be a co-counsel on the UDC’s lawsuit against Daviess Fiscal Court. Phillips and Owensboro attorney Nick Goetz will first appear on the case at a hearing next month in Circuit Court.
Daviess County officials are working with an unidentified entity to find a new home for the statue. The UDC sued, saying the statue belongs to the UDC and that ownership, and the decision on where to place the statue, is their decision.
Owensboro officials said previously they don’t want the statue in a city-owned museum. The lawsuit alleges the county is refusing to let the statue be placed anywhere else inside city limits. County officials contend the county has owned the statue since it was placed at the courthouse 120 years ago, and that the county maintains and insures the statue.
Phillips has been part of disputes involving Confederate monuments, such as one with the city of Memphis, when descendants of Confederate general and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest sued when Forrest’s statue, which sat over his grave, was removed from a park. The statue, and the remains of Forrest and his wife, were later relocated to another city with the costs paid by the city of Memphis.
Phillips said he has also been involved in two disputes over Confederate statues in North Carolina.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Phillips said groups like the UDC are portrayed unfairly as being racist when the group actually rejects racism and discrimination. The complaint filed in Circuit Court cites the UDC documents that say the group “will not associate with any individual, group or organization identified as militant, unpatriotic, racist or subversive to the United States of America.”
“The UDC is not racist,” Phillips said. Group members “don’t want the Confederacy to rise back up. They don’t want to overthrow the national government.
“There are women of minority backgrounds in the UDC,” Phillips said.
The UDC has included the statue in its inventory of property for years, Phillips said, and the county only gave permission for the statue to be placed on the courthouse lawn.
“The county has never paid to maintain it,” he said.
Phillips also rejected the claim that the county is listed as the statue’s owner in the Registry of Historic Places.
In other states where the UDC place statues in counties, the group made the statue a gift to the county, Phillips said. But that’s not the case with the Daviess County statue, he said.
“This particular issue, as nuanced as it is, I don’t think there’s a (Kentucky) case that deals precisely with these facts,” Phillips said.
Nationally “a large number of people do not want to see Confederate monuments taken down and destroyed,” he said, citing a July 2020 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
The poll found just 10% of those surveyed wanted the monuments moved and destroyed. Meanwhile, the poll found 31% favored moving the statues to private property, while 41% supported keeping them in place with a plaque to put the statue in historical context. Sixteen percent of those surveyed supported leaving the statue in place, with no additional context.
Removing Confederate statues doesn’t address issues of racism or inequality, Phillips said.
“It’s not going to resolve or make better anyone’s condition,” he said. Instead, he said officials should look at addressing issues of racial inequality in education and access to opportunity.
Phillips said it would be best if the statue were not moved to prevent it from being damaged, but the UDC wants the authority to place the statue without government interference.
“I think what the UDC wants is, ‘OK, we’ll move it, but we are going to put it up wherever we put it up, and it’s going to be seen by the public,’ ” Phillips said.
Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter said he hopes to have his response to the UDC lawsuit on Friday. Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly declined to comment other than saying, “Our attorney will speak for the (Fiscal Court).”
A hearing on a temporary restraining order that would prevent county officials from moving the statue until the case is resolved is set for May 11.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse