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Embracing statues doesn’t equal racism

Editorial by CHAD HOBBS

In today’s pressure cooker of public opinion, too often groups within our society are painted with a broad brush. All women, or all men, or all whites, or all blacks, or all conservatives, or all liberals are…fill in the generalized statement. There is no easier way to offend and earn the ire of a said “group” than painting with such a brush, but the national media cares little of the resulting divisions it causes.

 Statues and monuments, especially those depicting individuals from this country’s past, have turned into lightning rods for national debate and in some cases, removal or destruction. Anyone who should dare embrace such monuments, particularly those with ties to the Confederacy or slave holders, are quickly labeled as racist.

 Passing judgement on a man who lived hundreds of years ago out of context of their time here on earth, by today’s standards is dangerous ground to stand upon at best. There is much to be learned from the past, even if it may be painful, if we take the time to study individuals in the true context of their time. It can offer great benefit to society as a whole versus just tearing down and erasing anything that is hard to look at.

 When I was in fourth or fifth grade (time has taken its toll on the accuracy of my ability to date those long ago days), I had the opportunity to travel to Frankfort, missing a day of school to serve as a page for then State Representative Mark Brown. After serving my honorary position that day in the House chambers, I was afforded a tour of our Kentucky State Capitol.

 I will never forget walking into the Capitol Rotunda. There in the center stood a large bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, appearing larger than life. Lincoln was flanked on all sides by four lesser statues of men such as Henry Clay.  

 One stood out behind Lincoln. It seemed less, compared to the other bronze statues, as it was marble and almost drab behind the exquisite form of Lincoln’s statue which had his back to this one.

 The inquisitive young child I was, not an epitaph in that room went unread. It turned out that drab statue was Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. Already a young lover of history back then, I couldn’t help leaving the Rotunda that day with more questions than answers. After reading the inscriptions on both of those statues, I had come to the realization that two Kentucky born men had somehow presided as presidents within the United States at the very same time. How could this be?

 I left the capitol that day amazed, almost proud. Only once in the history of the United States has there been a time when two presidents served at the same time, and I was a son of the same state that held, in my eyes at that time, the honor of calling both of those men native sons of the Bluegrass State. Ignorance is indeed bliss, but that would soon change.

 When I was growing up, as many of you can relate, there was no internet. There were no Google searches. The depositories of knowledge were in books and books alone.

 Long before school, I had fallen in love with reading, but not today’s age appropriate reading. Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed a good children’s book, for sure, but they were not my favorite by any stretch of the means.

 Encyclopedias were the gate keepers to knowledge in the days of my youth. They were my original “search engine,” long before Google ever thought of developing theirs. My grandmother had a set, and they were where she would always take me, when one of my million questions would stump her. So it didn’t take long before I would start just reading them like a book for answers I didn’t even know the question for yet.

 My mom still talks about picking up her four-year-old, many moons ago, and having me educate her all about the platypus, after reading the “P” World Book Encyclopedia that day.

 So, when I came home from the Rotunda episode, the first thing I did was dive into my encyclopedias on any and everything related to the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis. After reading everything it had to say along with all the “see also” references at the end of each encyclopedia entry, I still wasn’t satisfied. I still had more questions than answers. Many times, encyclopedia entries were informative but provided cliff’s note versions of a subject at best.

 Standing in front of that Jefferson Davis, as a young white boy with a southern draw, didn’t make me celebrate the by gone days of slavery. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It didn’t make me racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body, as many of my great friends who look nothing like me will attest to.

 Standing in front of that Jefferson Davis statue did lead me on a lifetime journey of seeking truth, seeking answers and being even more accepting than I already was of any and everyone I’ve ever met.

 In the next part of this story, I will continue to explain where that journey took me, my trip to Gettysburg and how the monuments at the Brandenburg riverfront opened a conversation with my young son that I didn’t even know we were ready to have yet.