Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Judge-historian defends Confederate monuments, says race problems run deeper than stone

Kentucky Supreme Court
Justice Bill Cunningham
Debate about the memorials to Confederate fighters continues to spread across the South.

A 16-foot bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, a fixture in New Orleans for 133 years, was torn down May 19. The next day, one of West Kentucky's most respected residents, Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham, stood at a Murray monument dedicated to Lee, defending Southern Civil War heritage and criticizing what he called revisionist history and "monument marauders," Joshua Roberts reports for The Paducah Sun.

"How long will he stand?" Cunningham said to about 100 people gathered May 20 for the 100th anniversary of the Lee monument outside the Calloway County Courthouse in the county with Kentucky's southernmost point. "The great men and women of 100 years ago were in the business of constructing monuments of appreciation. The lesser men and women of today are in the business of tearing them down. . . . We have moved in 100 years from proudly dedicating this monument in the full light of the noon day to tearing down monuments under the cloak of darkness and police protection. We have moved in 100 years from a generation of appreciation to a generation of historical amnesia."

Cunningham, 72, has long championed equal rights, and one of his books, A Distant Light, is about racial injustice in Western Kentucky. "Based on Cunningham's resumé, background, and public and private remarks, the racially insensitive label applied to many pro-Southern voices doesn't fit the justice," Roberts writes.

Cunningham told Roberts, "I don't have to apologize to anyone (about) my position on race. I am very depressed that after 50 years from our civil-rights laws, race is still an issue in this country, and our poor brothers and sisters of color, in general, are still living in such social and economic conditions." He added that the country's problems with race relations are bigger than the polarizing issue of Civil War monuments. "How many black doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, bankers, and school superintendents do we have in West Kentucky?" Cunningham asked. "Meanwhile, we worry about monuments made of stone which are easily destroyed instead of taking on the bigger issues not so easy to resolve."

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