BOWING GREEN, Ky.
As passerby hustled about their days, Walter Wilkerson, 77, sat with his thoughts in the crisp September air.
Wilkerson, of Adolphus, who boasted of long southern lineage, said he believed the removal of confederate monuments was the unacceptable.
“Leave them alone,” he said, as he adjusted his Vietnam veteran baseball cap, “Just because off-color people are offended doesn’t stop them from being history.”
After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, defending a confederate monument became notional news, the overlapping issues of race, Southern identity, and white supremacy have come into the national spotlight.
The echoes of these events have reached Kentucky, where, according to the National Park Service’s website, there are over 50 confederate monuments.
Although Gov. Matt Bevin firmly disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments, many cities including Lexington have begun the process of removal.
Bowling Green police officer Wade Hughes, 40, said the statues should be seen as a reminder of bad times the country has survived, not as honoring the men they depict.
“Slavery was a very dark time. I 1,000 percent disagree with it,” he said as he rested his hand near the gun strapped to his side, “but we can’t pretend it never happened.”
Although Hughes sees the statues as grim reminders to be avoided, others disagree.
Michelle Jones, who was attending a local Fall Festival in Bowling Green, said the statues are obviously intended to honor the confederacy.
“You don’t honor someone like that, someone filled with hate,” Jones, 49, said, as she waited while her daughter got her face painted. As a self-identifying African American mother, Jones said she will be happy to see confederate monuments gone.
Another mother, Renee Hulsey, 34, said she doesn’t want kids to be taught to erase history.
“It has become a race issue,” Hulsey of Bowling Green said, “But if we start taking down everything they find offensive, what’s going to be left?”
Hulsey, sighing, said that black people find the statues a tangible thing they can attack after mistakenly feeling targeted by the police.
Although Hulsey, a white woman, said the removal is not a race issue, an August 2017 Quinnipiac University national poll found that white voters oppose removal 57 percent while 67 percent of black voters support it.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kentucky has nearly 20 white nationalist groups. However, Bowling Green computer technician Matt Folker does not see these groups as a threat.
“There could not have been more than 15 white nationalists in Charlottesville,” Folker, 33, said. “The media is making this up give them ammunition against republicans.”
Reuters and multiple local reports put the number of white supremacists at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally between 250 and 400.
Although white nationalist organizations are fighting against the removal of statues in Kentucky, many other Kentuckians disagree with the removal for other reasons.
Scoffing at the efforts for removal, Cameron Hagin, 19, of Bowling Green, said the white nationalists have it all wrong.
“The confederacy wasn’t about slavery, it was about regional pride,” he said.
As for African Americans who see the monuments as offensive he says, “Well, were you ever a slave? Then stop being offended.”
Abby Potter is a photojournalism student based in Bowling Green, Ky.
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