Two weeks ago, Egyptologist Sarah Parcak posted a series of tweets for anyone interested in “how to pull down an obelisk” that “might be masquerading as a racist monument.” What followed were a set of instructions that included such tips as where best to attach the ropes, and just how many people it would take to topple a monument of a specific size. Though Parcak was clearly providing a somewhat tongue-in-check commentary on the removal of Confederate statutes, Republicans seized on the comments, and the illustrations (see below) as evidence that the “radical left” and, of course, “antifa” were coming for the Washington Monument.
But as it happens, there is an structure just thirty miles from my home town in Kentucky that is most definitely an obelisk and absolutely a tribute to racism. This is the monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site.
And it really, really needs to go.
In case the image above makes this seem like the kind of obelisk you might see at an average cemetery, the concrete and limestone spire celebrating Kentucky’s racist heritage is 351 feet tall. That makes it about 2/3 the size of the Washington Monument.
Perhaps nothing signals the “border state” status of Kentucky better than the fact that it is birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Lincoln’s birthplace is a National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service. It includes the “first Lincoln memorial,” a rather modest mausoleum-style structure, along with a recreation of the cabin where Lincoln was born. Both are situated above a spring believed to be the one Lincoln’s family used as a water source. What the site does not have is a huge white tower deliberately meant to mimic the Washington Monument.
The idea for the Davis monument came during a 1907 reunion of Confederate soldiers. The structure was actually built starting in 1917 and completed in 1924 after a hiatus for World War I. And yes, you can climb it (though not at the moment … COVID-19) and there is an observation window at the top. The countryside around it is quite attractive.
Since his election, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has demonstrated over and over that he has a rare level of political bravery and an admirable sense of justice. In addition to protecting the people of his state through fast action on COVID-19, Beshear has promised to provide medical coverage for 100% of African Americans in Kentucky. Beshear is, at this moment, pushing for the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue from the Kentucky state capital.
But just because the Jefferson Davis Memorial sits in the middle of nowhere at Fairview (and seriously, even for Kentucky, that’s the middle of nowhere) doesn’t mean this giant stake to the heart of the state should be overlooked. This is a monument to the Confederate president, built at the suggestion of a Confederate general, and supported by efforts of Confederate veterans. There is no good here.
However, I’m not advocating that people break out the ropes and follow Parcak’s instructions. Let the monument stand … only change it’s purpose. Let this be a memorial to Black Kentuckians who fought for the Union cause. Let it be a monument to the Black Kentuckians who played vital roles in the Underground Railroad. Let it be a monument to the Black Kentuckians who were enslaved, tortured, and died for people like Davis … and people like the family of Lincoln’s wife. And for thousands of others.
Keep the monument, but get rid of Davis. Tear him out, root and stem. At Hitler’s birthplace in Austria, there is a single stone with a brief carving. It says: “For Peace, Freedom, and Democracy. Never Again Fascism. Millions of Dead Remind us.”
Davis deserves nothing better. And nothing more.
Here’s a rough schematic. I note this is experimental archaeology in action! Just my professional Hot Take and you may need more people, longer rope, etc. everything depends on monument size. pic.twitter.com/lzl55CSPNt
— Sarah Parcak (@indyfromspace) June 1, 2020