Things got a bit heated near the end of Thursday’s educational program explaining the history of the Confederate statue located on the Daviess County Courthouse lawn, as a handful of attendees took issue with the call to remove the monument from where it stands.
A crowd of roughly 300 people showed up to the event on the Kentucky Wesleyan College lawn, and local historian Aloma Dew was the featured speaker. The event was co-hosted by the Owensboro NAACP, the Owensboro Human Relations Commission and the Higher Education Equity Coalition.
Dew touched on several topics as she detailed the history of how the statue ended up in Daviess County as well as why it was erected.
She said Owensboro’s role in the Civil War was unique because it was a border city in a border state. Dew said the population was split mostly evenly, with half supporting the North and the rest supporting the South.
In 1865, black soldiers were quartered in the courthouse. As a result, it was burned by a Confederate guerrilla from Hancock County.
Dew said a group of people worked for years to raise money to build a statue to memorialize the lost cause of the Confederate dead from that war.
In 1900, the statue was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy. While many Confederate statues honor a specific figure, Daviess County’s is a memorial of a common soldier to honor the dead. The pedestal reads “to our Confederate heroes.”
Dew said the Civil War never truly ended, as symbols of white supremacy still remain. She wrapped up by calling from the removal — not destruction — of the statue from the Courthouse lawn.
“The Civil War is not over,” she said. “It won’t be over until we live up to our moral responsibilities and our religious duty to love your neighbor as yourself … and make important changes. It has taken me a while to get here, but perhaps moving this statue is going to make a change.”
That’s when a few in the crowd who disagreed began to voice their concerns.
One woman who would not give her name tried to take the stage and address the crowd. The majority of the crowd booed and yelled for her to sit down as she expressed her displeasure with how the event was being handled.
She later said she thought the event would be more of an open discussion, but instead felt it was a “lecture” or “indoctrination.”
The woman, who said she is an Owensboro native, said she thought Daviess County and Kentucky were not active enough in the Civil War, so they didn’t deserve to have a monument anyway.
“In a lot of ways, I don’t even think Owensboro deserves that statue,” she said. “Not for a bad reason, I think that statue is too good for Owensboro.”
Greg Oakley was also very vocal about his displeasure with how the event was being run, and he also doesn’t think the statue should be moved.
He said removing the statue is essentially trying to remove or rewrite history.
“I believe that the war was necessary. I believe it was necessary for the North to win the war. I believe slavery had to end. It was wrong,” he said. “That statue is not fighting a war. That statue is a reminder for us. History has always said if you don’t know the history, you’re doomed to repeat it. … You can’t erase that history. These kids are not being taught the right history in school. They’re being taught some bull.”
Much of Oakley’s argument was based around the historical and educational significance of keeping the statue to remember that the Confederacy lost.
When asked if the statue could serve that same educational purpose inside a museum, he responded:
“No, not when it’s been out there for 100 years on that corner. Because you bring kids right down to that courthouse and you establish that this man did wrong, and if you want something done and done right, you go in that building. You file whatever you need to get something changed. Don’t try to tear it down just because you can.”
Small groups of people continued to discuss and try to argue their points long after the event was over.
The Rev. Rhondalyn Randolph, Owensboro NAACP chapter president, said that sparking those conversations was one of the main reasons to have events like that. Randolph has been pushing for the statue to be removed for years now, and she feels like there may be enough support to finally make it happen.
“Our objective is not to erase history,” she said. “It is not to whitewash history. It is not to change history. It’s about giving history to people in its fullest. So much has been left out because minorities, blacks, other people have been left out of the historical narrative. We have to set things straight.”
Though the handful of unhappy residents briefly disrupted the end of the event, Randolph was pleased with how everything went.
“Even that was good because that’s the purpose of these events is to have discussion,” she said. “Everyone may not agree on the way in which we go about having the discussion, but there has to be order. Nothing would be accomplished if nothing was done in order.”
She said she hopes the community continues to show support in helping fight the bigger cause to wipe out racism.
“I look forward to working with each and every person that is her today to make our community the best that we can be,” Randolph said. “All of us together, black and white, young and old, all of us standing against racism.”
Editor’s note: Owensboro Times has included three videos we captured after a handful of people in the crowd expressed their discontent. Due to the rapid change in events and multiple conversations going on at the same time, we have uploaded raw clips.