Tag Archives: slavery

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More Context

John Hunt Morgan, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, is safe in his construction cocoon. Protected from debris and damage during the much-anticipated renovation of Lexington’s historic courthouse, the statue of Morgan was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911, during the dark century of continued subjugation in the South of freed slaves and their descendants following the Civil War. The Morgan statue will greet visitors to the courthouse’s main entrance upon completion of the renovation.

The Morgan memorial, and its companion statue in the courthouse plaza, erected in 1887, of John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President of the United States, slave owner, defender of secession, Confederate general, and the last Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America, create an heroic tableau that some have called “history”.

The statues were erected in the public square, on a block which was, in the first-half of the nineteenth century, the site of major slave auctions, and marked in recent times by a small, lonely plaque.

slaves00

At the end of a summer riven by blood, outrage, fear, and protest, is it still important to talk about some statues?

The conversation about Lexington’s courthouse statues, begun after the massacre at “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, continued last fall. Mayor Jim Gray charged the Urban County Arts Review Board (UCARB) to make recommendations concerning the future of the statues, highlighting the need to reflect “shared values”, diversity, and inclusiveness.

The Board studied the issues exhaustively, heard testimony from experts and the public, and encouraged submission of letters of opinion from the general public. They received many more letters in support of retaining the statues in their locations in the courthouse square. Nevertheless, in November the Board recommended that the statues of Morgan and Breckinridge be moved from the courthouse block to other publicly accessible, appropriate places.

At the meeting where this and other recommendations were made, the UCARB members looked on incredulously as, at the eleventh hour, city officials informed them that removal of the statues might very well jeopardize the federal historic tax credits that were a vital part of the financing of the courthouse renovation. The extensiveness of discussions with federal historic preservation officials concerning this issue has never been publicly disclosed.

After the November UCARB meeting the public conversation about the statues went into a deep sleep.

In mid-February of this year, Chris Corcoran, an advisor to Mayor Gray, announced that the Mayor had decided to keep the statues in place, telling the Arts Review Board:

“The mayor’s intent is to keep those statutes where they are and provide more context,” (italics are mine) Corcoran said. “We are not pursuing moving the statues.”

Conversation over.

They say that history is written by the victors, and all across the South in the decades after the Civil War the believers in “The Lost Cause” retained the symbols of the Confederacy and valorized its heroes. It was a victory after defeat and a message of warning to those who would try to upend the renewed and revived architecture of domination and subjugation. The new heroes, inheritors of the mantle, were men in white robes, police officers with dogs and billy clubs, and governors standing in schoolhouse doors.

So what would be more context for our statues, presiding in place in our public square?

Perhaps this:

The statues of Morgan and Breckinridge stand as testament that history can be warped and defiled. That a gauzy cover can be applied to it to encourage a recasting of the true history of a vile cause. That a history of a place, our public square, the site of untold suffering in the decades before the Civil War, can be nearly erased. These statues are not “history”, they only mark the attempts by people in history to rework history. Mark this; the statues were erected not just to memorialize heroes of “The Lost Cause” but to serve as a warning to those who would attempt to impede that revision of history and challenge its contemporary malevolent regime.

Not enough more context?

The men valorized by these statues were inhabited by an evil and degrading ideology. An ideology of racial superiority in service of a system that required centuries of enslavement of other human beings. So, Africans stolen from their homelands and their descendants, were subjected to the most cruel and inhumane conditions, treated and tortured as beast of burdens, and bought and sold as property of others on this very spot. These slaves were instrumental in building the early America.

The fever of this racist malignant ideology and system was only stanched by a most bloody and wrenching civil war. It still remains to be fully extinguished. Slavery in the United States takes its place amongst the most horrific and prolonged injustices and acts in humanity’s known history. It is the cause for which Morgan fought and died and Breckinridge avidly served. This is the true history to be remembered in this place amongst these statues.

We whitewash or forget this truth at our peril.

But perhaps the most appropriate more context, would be this image, suggested in a conversation with UK Art Museum Director, Stuart Horodner, and projected large throughout the courthouse plaza:

ali

For another response to the courthouse statues see Tom Martin’s UnderMain piece about Kurt Godhe and Kremena Todorova’s latest community engagement art project, Unlearn Fear+Hate.

Slave auction announcement image courtesy of University of Kentucky

Ali-Morgan image courtesy of Chris Rosenthal 

Arts

Slave Memorial Public Art RFQ

LexArts Inc. in association with the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial seek artists to create public art that recognizes slave graves both marked and unmarked in the Lake Cumberland area.  This artwork will create a visual landmark within the community. The goal is to commission proposals by three experienced public artists for the site with the expectation of realizing one of the proposals next year, according to a LexArts statement.   There is no application fee to enter.

Project Description
The Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial board was created in an effort “To recognize and honor slaves and their burial sites in the Lake Cumberland area, to demonstrate that every person be regarded with dignity and respect.” Goals/Objectives to accomplish the mission include the following:

•      To recognize and honor those sold into slavery in our community.
•      To demonstrate to all that these lives are not forgotten, that these lives made a difference.
•      To bring dignity and respect to their final resting place.
•      To make every effort to learn the names of those buried.
•      To promote inclusiveness of everyone in the life of our community.
•      To develop an educational program that illustrates the daily life of a slave and the many contributions they made.

slave_coffle

Project Budget
The project budget is $50,000.  The budget is negotiable but must include travel, research, design, execution, insurance, taxes, site preparation and materials.    LexArts will confirm the feasibility of completing the project within the estimated project budget during preliminary design.

Project Site
The selected site remains uncertain. Various sites have been proposed. The City of Somerset has offered multiple locations but the most logical site is on the grounds of The Mill Springs Battlefield Museum and Visitors Center.  The Mill Springs Battlefield Museum and Visitors Center board has identified three locations on the grounds of the museum. The selected artist will have the opportunity to suggest locations that best displays their work.

Timeline

Deadline for Artist Qualifications                                      May 30, 2016

Artist Notification                                                                 June 8, 2016

Finalist Proposals Due                                                          July 15, 2016
 
Application Guidelines (Incomplete Submissions will not be accepted)
Apply here.
Required:
– A one page artist statement describing public art experience and interest in the project.
– A current resume (no more than three pages)
– Up to 6 digital images of past mural / art work in .jpg format no larger than 500 kb each. Each file must be named with the artist’s surname and image number to correspond to an image list (e.g. 01 Smith).

For more information, please contact Nathan Zamarron at 859-255-2951 or nzamarron@lexarts.org 

Eligibility
We are committed to a policy of providing opportunities to people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, veteran status, or physical disability.  Any artist may apply.
 
Selection Process
The submitted qualifications will be reviewed by a selection committee comprised of artists, arts professionals and community leaders. The images from the top artists will be exhibited in a gallery setting allowing the public to vote on their favorite works.   Using public input as one component in the selection process, the committee will identify three finalists.   The three selected finalists will have the opportunity to visit the site, meet with LexArts and community representatives.  Finalists will be paid $500 to develop a design and deliver a proposal of composition, concept statement and process.  A review of the final design will be conducted by the selection committee. One artist or artist team will be selected to realize their proposal.

Critical Selection Factors
• Resonance with the project description
• Artistic distinction
• Public Safety
• Low maintenance, durability
• Contextual integration into a specific urban site and its intrinsic character

The strength of the submitted images of past artworks demonstrating ability of the artist(s) to complete similar or related projects will be considered critical selection factors. In addition, the Committee is interested in a wide variety of creative solutions to the challenges of an outdoor public artwork.

Request for Proposals (Phase II)
Successful proposals will be expected to provide:

•A written document expressing the conceptual framework and artistic point of view that will guide development of the project ;

•One or more drawings of the proposed work of art; models are optional. Drawings and/or models should illustrate the conceptual relationships between the artwork and its environment.

•A timeline and budget (not to exceed $50,000) for production and installation;

•A detailed list of materials and construction requirements, with attention to issues of durability, maintenance and public safety.

Brief history of Lake Cumberland Area
Pulaski County was established in 1798, at that time the county went all the way down to the old Tennessee line between Wayne and Knox and the southern part of the county was Indian land.  In 1800 a part of Pulaski became Wayne and in 1802 there was no longer any Indian land.  Then in 1826 several acres of the southern part of Kentucky was now Tennessee with McCreary County being formed in 1912 from the Southern part of Pulaski and part of Wayne and Whitley.

The city of Somerset was founded in 1789 by Thomas Hansford and received its name for Somerset County, New Jersey, where some of the early settlers had come from. It was incorporated as a city in 1887 and made the county seat.  Point Isabel was on Lake Cumberland just south of Somerset, in 1890 and was renamed Burnside for General Ambrose Burnside, Union general during the Civil War.

Pulaski County is known as having a significant Civil War battle.  The battle of Mill Springs (also known as the battle of Fishing Creek {Confederate terminology} and battle of Logan’s Cross Roads {Union terminology}), was fought in both Pulaski and Wayne Counties, near Nancy.  It was the first win for the Union Army on January 19, 1862.  At the present time there is a Museum next to the National Cemetery in Nancy, Kentucky.  The Battle of Mill Springs Battlefield Association is at the present time working on the Museum, battlefield and other battlefield property in Wayne County becoming National.

Upon researching it has come to knowledge that Pulaski County had 149 slave owners in the past.  It was also found out that there are many of the cemeteries that have unmarked slave graves.  It would only be right that we recognize these slaves.  The slaves were in old Pulaski, McCreary, and Wayne Counties – hence Lake Cumberland Slaves.

Research Links
 
Information on Lake Cumberland can be found by visiting these sites:

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Cheapside Statues: An Opinion

Editor’s Note: The Urban County Government Art Review Board (UCARB) has held several special meetings to consider the status of the statues of John Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan in Cheapside Park. UnderMain has published a number of pieces about this issue since the Charleston church shootings in June. The UCARB is now in the process of developing its recommendations to Mayor Gray, to be presented in November. The following opinion piece, intended as a statement to the UCARB, is by Van Meter Pettit, a local architect. Input into this issue may be submitted directly to the office of Mayor Gray at mayor@lexingtonky.gov or by calling 859 258-3100.

I am writing to recommend that Lexington consider carefully relocating the bronze Confederate monuments currently located in Cheapside Park. This is not meant, as some have alleged, to erase or destroy history. On the contrary, it is to recognize more appropriately a buried history that deserves to be honored in this unique location where it took place.

The bronze figures of Breckinridge and Morgan have no specific tie to this precise location except for the fact that they were located there a long time ago. Morgan could be more appropriately located near the house museum where he lived. Breckinridge or Morgan could be more appropriately recognized in the Lexington Cemetery because it is where their bodies are buried. Since Henry Clay and countless war dead are located there it would in no way be disrespectful to relocate these landmarks there. They would be in good company.

Why go to the trouble of moving landmarks that have stood in this public space for a century or more? Because for 150 years our guardians of history have had that chance to tell the story of slavery and racial violence that was ritually and publicly conducted in this civic space but have failed to do so. It is time to clear this ground of pro-slavery landmarks installed during an era of racial oppression and terror in order to convey a very significant history that is tied specifically to this place. Confederate monuments and the Civil War have no specific claim on this ground. They actually serve to obstruct an important story that has yet to be properly honored.

What appears to be wholly missing from the community conversation about Cheapside is its unique history as a public square. In addition to serving as a marketplace and a seat of justice and public administration, it is also a place where more African American slaves were sold than any other place in the state1. Men, women, and children were sold in the thousands like livestock and split from all known family and relations. It was legal, it was commonplace, and it made many white families in Kentucky very rich. There is a building on Upper Street that still has evidence of basement pens used to hold slaves awaiting sale.

From eyewitness accounts as early as 1816, the courthouse square was used regularly as a place to whip slaves who were guilty of an infraction as benign as missing a curfew. It was a public spectacle that regularly drew crowds even when the town was very small2. For nearly a century these ritual beatings were a form of social and political entertainment. Less frequently, but yet repeatedly, this site also hosted lynchings, where blacks accused of a crime could be killed without trial or legal recourse.

During the era when former Confederates dominated state and local politics3, men who registered black Lexingtonians to vote could be murdered in front of numerous witnesses without the perpetrators being brought to justice4. From a high of nearly 50% in 1900, the population of African-Americans in Lexington quickly dropped to below 15%. Unrestrained night raids by vigilantes against black residents were an obvious motivation for black Lexingtonians to migrate away.

This post-confederate ‘Birth of a Nation’ style reign of terror made famous by D.W. Griffith’s grotesque heroic depiction did not end until a 1920 race riot of several thousand that led to six deaths and scores of injured. A mob stormed the courthouse where a black man was being tried for murder. They intended to beat him and hang him rather than allow him to stand trail. Kentucky Governor Edwin Morrow called in federal troops to maintain order5. This event happened after both bronze statues were installed. This is the political environment in which they were created and sited.

Thousands of humans sold as slaves, hundreds of the enslaved brutally and publicly lashed, and an untold number of before and after the Civil War publicly lynched… and we have only a state highway marker that has been vandalized. Almost no one knows this history of our oldest public square. Instead we are discussing pro-slavery bronze figures that as historical figures are footnotes outside of Lexington.

John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan were both elite Confederate generals who chose treason against the nation in order to defend and protect the institution of slavery, something Ken Burns refers to as “America’s original sin”. These monuments need to be recognized as a statement of cultural and political defiance against the outcome of the Civil War and the subsequent elevation of African-Americans to a status of full citizenship. Kentucky failed to ratify the 13th (abolishing slavery), 14th (citizenship to former slaves, equal protection under the law) and 15th (right to vote) Amendments to the U.S. Constitution until 1976. Kentucky elected former Confederates or their sympathizers to political leadership for decades after the Civil War.

These statues must be evaluated based upon the context of the politics and public discourse of their time. Their creation and placement were political and philosophical acts that have not lost their original meaning. To suggest that they no longer possess a very toxic cultural baggage would be willfully naive.

These landmarks hold a similar cultural message as the statue of Jefferson Davis that stands in the state capitol. Seventy-two university historians agree that the Davis monument should be relocated away from the Capitol Rotunda because, “The statue’s presence in the Capitol rotunda ‘minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions and endows the Southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve’, said a letter signed and sent to state lawmakers by the current and former historians6.”

In my opinion the Cheapside pro-slavery artifacts share a message that willfully and intentionally obscures the blight of slavery in our history in favor of a fictionalized ‘nobility’ born of victim status from northern aggression. That the pro-slavery Cheapside monuments stand in a place where slaves were brutally and publicly whipped, murdered and sold away from loved ones makes them all the more impossible to ignore or absolve.

These landmarks can be understood as the defiant and unrepentant gestures of a former slave-owning elite who dominated the politics and economics of Kentucky during this period. White supremacy and nostalgia for the slavery era is their shared context. I sincerely believe that to allow these to remain in places of honor is to endorse the messages they were made to convey.

If we fail to act in this pivotal moment we will send a message that we are still culturally unreflective of the gravity of our past and that the slave-holding old guard still have our implicit respect and tacit blessing.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.


1 Cheapside Slave Auction Block By Tim Talbot from explorekyhistory.ky.gov

2 An 1816 account of Lexington recorded by Samuel R. Brown and recounted by J. Winston Coleman, Jr. in Six sketches of Kentucky, published by the Henry Clay Press

3 How Kentucky Became a Confederate State, by Christopher Phillips New York Times, May 22, 2015

4 Kentucky Historian George C. Wright in his book, Racial violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940 : lynchings, mob rule, and “legal lynchings” at least 353 lynchings took place in Kentucky up to 1940. A majority of the victims were African American men.

5 History of Governor Edwin P. Morrow from Wikipedia

6 72 history professors sign letter urging removal of Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky Capitol Lexington Herald-Leader by Jack Brammer jbrammer@herald-leader.com, August 31, 2015

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Visions of Cheapside- An Updated Update!

In our recent piece on UnderMain about the history of slave auctions at Cheapside  and the statues of heroes of the Confederacy that stand there today, we called for public art to reveal the true nature of that space made sacred by suffering. At a wonderful public forum in July at the Carnegie Center, the Mayor announced that he has asked the Arts Review Board to make recommendations.

We believe that this important conversation should be inclusive, so that a project to re-imagine Cheapside is a true community effort. The conversation is made more urgent now with the apparent deliberate breaking of the sign at Cheapside relating the history of slave auctions at the site.

In a related piece of news, the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 7-2 to keep the statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the secessionist Confederate States of America and devoted defender of slavery, in the Capitol rotunda alongside Kentucky greats, like Abraham Lincoln. Davis was born in Fairview, Kentucky, but spent much of his life in Mississippi. The statue was erected under the auspices of the Kentucky Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was unveiled in 1936, part of a decades-long revanchist effort begun after the Civil War to romanticize, glorify, and commemorate the Lost Cause and its heroes. That cause, primarily and centrally to preserve the right to continue the enslavement of African-Americans, continued throughout the South under a different guise for another 100 years after the Civil War through an architecture of subjugation including Jim Crow laws, enforced segregation and discrimination, deprivation of basic constitutional rights, intimidation, violence, and murder.

In Lexington, the first meeting of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Arts Review Board with the Cheapside issue on the agenda was on Wednesday, August 12. Mayor Jim Gray appeared before the Board and presented his charge for the Board to make studied recommendations concerning the status of the statues and historic marker in Cheapside. The Mayor made a point several times during his brief statement to highlight the importance of “shared values” and sensitivity to Lexington’s history, diversity, and inclusiveness in the Board’s considerations.

The next meeting concerning Cheapside of the Arts Review Board will be on September 16, at 3:00pm. At that meeting invited consultants with expertise in history, art, public art and other related fields will present information to the Board for its consideration. The meeting is in the LFUCG Council Chambers and is open to the public. Attendance by interested members of the community at this next meeting and the public comment meeting on September 21, at 6:00pm, is encouraged and urged.

We would most definitely like to hear your ideas for efforts to address the history of Cheapside. Continued involvement of the community in this effort is most important. We will compile your suggestions and send them on to the Arts Review Board, whose Chairperson, Georgia Henkel, has expressed interest in suggestions coming through the UnderMain channel. We also will highlight in a future post on UnderMain some of the ideas that we think would be “revelations”, as we called for in our piece on Cheapside. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward!

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