Madisonville emerged in one piece Monday from a weekend of demonstrations and marching. But some protesters want one piece of the city’s backdrop removed.
“The Confederate soldier statue located in front of the old courthouse/government building... is a symbol of racism and inequality,” says an online petition launched Sunday. “It should be destroyed.”
The statue in question was erected in 1909 and depicts a soldier standing on a high pedestal overlooking the town.
The petition drive began after three days of demonstrations outside the building to protest the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis. The statue came up at a separate rally in Madisonville Monday night.
“We have met with local officials about that Confederate monument... It’s been over a year,” said Bill McReynolds, President of the African-American Coalition of Hopkins County.
McReynolds spoke to about 40 people at a “We Can’t Breathe” rally in Festus Claybon Park. He led the group in chants based on those last words of Floyd, as a police officer kept a knee on Floyd’s neck.
Monday night’s event was like the others — peaceful. The downtown demonstrations over the weekend had no arrests, no violence, no fires and even a compliment from the Hopkins County Sheriff.
“Proud of the organizers and participants in the Justice for Black Lives March,” Matt Sanderson wrote on Facebook Saturday night. “You set the example for other communities to follow.”
But McReynolds said he stayed away from those demonstrations specifically because of the statue.
“We have asked for them to relocate it. We have not asked for it to be torn down,” McReynolds said.
The petition at Change.org says the statue is “at the site of the old tree that was used to hang black people in the past.” It’s the idea of U.S. Senate candidate Steven Cox of Madisonville.
“These people are amazing,” Cox wrote online about the protest Saturday night. “There’s only one thing wrong. That [expletive] statue.”
“Until that statue has been relocated, we refuse to go down to the courthouse and have any kind of protest ever again,” McReynolds said.
As of Monday evening, the petition campaign had more than 2,580 signatures. It was unclear how many of those people are residents of Hopkins County or Kentucky.
McReynolds said he’s organizing “roundtable talks” with local leaders and pastors about racial issues. He hopes it will occur next week. In the meantime, a Madisonville minister offered what he called “tools to survive” for young people if they’re stopped by law officers.
“We are going to quit trying to have court on the side of the street,” Charles Shepherd of Pleasant Grove Church said. “You can’t win. It’s absolutely impossible. Do not try to fuss with them or fight with them.”
Shepherd also urged young people to stop wearing hoodies during the summer.
“They already have you wearing a face mask,” Shepherd said in reference to coronavirus guidelines. “So you’re already suspect. Tensions are very high. The police are scared. Believe that. They fear for their life.”
No officers were visible at Monday night’s rally.