Politics & Government

Poll: Most Kentuckians want Jefferson Davis statue to remain in state Capitol

. Most Kentuckians think the controversial statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis should remain in the state Capitol Rotunda, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll.

The survey shows 73 percent of Kentucky voters say the statue should stay put and 17 percent say it should be moved to a museum. Ten percent of respondents are not sure what should be done with the statue.

Several Kentucky politicians called for moving the Jefferson Davis statue to the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort or to the Jefferson Davis Historic Site in Todd County after nine black people were killed in June at a church in South Carolina. The alleged shooter had posed at sites connected to the Confederacy.

Gov. Steve Beshear has directed the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission to decide the fate of the statue. The commission has collected public comments on what should be done and plans to meet Wednesday to review them.

Ricky L. Jones, chairman of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville, said he was not surprised that the poll showed nearly three of every four Kentuckians want to keep the statue of Davis, a native of Kentucky, in the Capitol.

“It tells you where a very large group of Kentuckians are ideologically,” Jones said.

He said the statue should never have been placed in the Capitol.

“Those with an understanding of the Civil War know it was fought over slavery,” Jones said. “Davis sided with the Confederacy that wanted to keep slavery instead of trying to preserve the country. He was a treasonous villain, and his statue has no place in the center of state government.”

Thomas Y. Hiter, chaplain of the Kentucky division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he did not like “to quarrel with the professor’s verbiage, but he’s dead wrong.”

“The Civil War was about the South being invaded by the North,” Hiter said, “Some blacks fought for the South.”

While some still debate the causes of the Civil War, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson says it started primarily because of disagreements between free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.

Hiter said he hoped the state panel that will decide the statue’s fate will consider the poll results. He and other members of the pro-Confederacy group rallied on the steps of the Capitol on July 24, decrying efforts to remove Confederate symbols from government property as persecution and “history genocide.”

The Confederacy was a country made up of 11 southern states that existed from 1861 to 1865 while the Civil War raged.

Bluegrass Poll respondent Sue Greer-Pitt, a sociology professor at Southeast Community College in Whitesburg, said the statue deserved to be preserved for the public but should not be in the Capitol.

“It would be more appropriate in a museum setting,” she said. “Davis is a Kentucky native, but he became an enemy of the state and nation. Kentucky never even joined the Confederacy, and we honored him with a statue in the Capitol.”

The statue was unveiled in the Capitol on Dec. 10, 1936, during the first administration of Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler.

Nelle Copley of Johnson County, another poll respondent, said the statue should remain in the Capitol.

“It’s a part of our history that should be kept,” she said in a follow-up interview.

Asked about people who think the statue is insulting, Copley said, “I don’t have anything against black people. I think there will be black people in heaven.”

The gender and age of poll respondents did not appear to affect their views of the statue, but race, political-party registration and education played a role.

Seventy-five percent of white respondents said the statue should remain in the Capitol, compared to 42 percent of black voters. Only 15 percent of white voters said the statue should be moved, compared to 43 percent of black respondents. Of the 863 registered voters surveyed, 6 percent were black and 90 percent were white.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of the Herald-Leader and WKYT in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, was taken July 22 through 28. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to want the statue to remain in the Capitol, though large majorities from both parties chose that option. A little less than one in four Democrats said the statue should be moved and less than one in 10 Republicans thought it should go.

As education levels increased, respondents were somewhat more likely to say the statue should be moved. Eight percent of high school graduates and 25 percent of college graduates said the statue should go.

State Senate Caucus chairman Gerald Neal, a Louisville Democrat who is the first black to hold a leadership position in the Kentucky General Assembly, said he thought the poll question was “superficially worded” and “did not get at the complex issues involved.”

“I just hope that all the folks who say the state should maintain the Jefferson Davis statue in the state Capitol are not saying the state should maintain what he supported and stood for. The question really doesn’t get to that,” Neal said.

The poll question asked: “Jefferson Davis, who was born in Kentucky, was president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Should the statue of Jefferson Davis be removed from the state Capitol Rotunda and placed in a museum? Or should it remain in the Capitol?”

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Kentucky State Conference and Louisville chapter of the NAACP, said the poll response was “probably accurate given the way the question was asked, mentioning Davis was a native Kentuckian, but I imagine a lot of people don’t even know who he is.”

Cunningham said Davis was born in Kentucky but “he did not live his adult life here, and his statue doesn’t belong in the state Capitol.”

The civil rights activist also said he hoped the poll results did not give the historic properties commission “ammunition to keep the statue in place.”

Different people will view the statue and see it differently, said Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville.

“To many African-Americans, they see it and see a man who led a country that supported slavery. To many whites, they see a man who is a symbol of Kentucky’s heritage,” Clayton said. “It doesn’t surprise me that the poll shows support for it given that it has been in the Capitol for a long time.”