Lexington mayor on relocating Confederate statues: "We must act"

The violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, is the latest in a series of tense demonstrations over plans to remove Confederate monuments. From New Orleans to San Antonio, communities across the South are taking a critical look at these symbols – and in some cases, removing them.

Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky, is also moving quickly to relocate two Confederate monuments from outside a historic former courthouse. He said the weekend's deadly violence in Charlottesville led him to announce his plans Saturday.

"Why are mayors across the country bringing these statues down now?" CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller asked him.

"Mayors are on the razor's edge," Gray said. "When you see the tension, when you see the violence that we saw… in Charlottesville, then you know that we must act."
 
The Lexington monuments were built near the historic site of one of the country's largest slave auction blocks.

"I don't think it's right... that we would honor and glorify Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery and honor them on the very grounds that slaves were once sold at auction," Gray said.

One of the statues he wants to move is one of John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president and the last Confederate secretary of war. Gray wants to move it to a nearby park honoring veterans. 

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Statue of John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president and the last Confederate secretary of war, in Lexington, Kentucky

CBS News


But he is likely to face strong opposition. After the city of Charlottesville approved the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee earlier this year, it was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists. In New Orleans, city leaders faced two years of court battles and a handful of violent protests over their plan to remove four Confederate landmarks.
 
The Southern Poverty Law Center has found 1,500 symbols or places that pay homage to Confederate leaders and said there have been at least 100 state and local attempts to remove the monuments or provide more historical context.

Some who want the monuments to stay say removing them is erasing an important part of the country's past and see them as landmarks throughout the South.
 
"I think they ought to just leave them alone and leave them where they are. You know, they're part of history," Lexington resident Don Martina said. 

"When we place those along the veterans war memorial walk, then that story can be told to young people. Hiding that story, erasing that story, that doesn't teach us. But telling the story does," Gray said.

Kentucky citizens fought on both sides of the Civil War, which is why the mayor wants the Breckinridge statue to stand nearby his Union counterparts. Gray will need the approval of the city council and the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission.