In the summer of 2012, I served as a childcare teacher for a local after-school program, one that was primarily African-American.
As teachers, we decided to introduce our students to our local government and how important it was to their daily lives. We invited speakers, held a mock election, and went on field trips around the community.
On our last field trip of the summer, we took the students to the Daviess County Courthouse. The students had a blast. We were given a tour of the courthouse where the students were embraced by workers and elected officials and learned where they could someday register to vote. This was the first time that most of them had ever been to the courthouse, so confidence and a sense of belonging was a goal for the group.
At the end of the tour, we ventured to the front lawn where the students arrived at the statue standing tall on the corner of Frederica and Third streets. One of the students, a fifth grader, read aloud the statue’s plaque: “To Our Confederate Heroes.” He then turned to me with a smile: “Did they fight to free us?” Before this moment, I never realized that this statue even existed. You can imagine the look on my face as I had to tell this young student, no, they were not the people who sought to free us and our ancestors; they were the people that sought to deny our humanity.
Another student turned to me and asked, “Are they your heroes?”
“They are not my heroes,” I told them.
As these debates re-emerge around our nation, there are some important things to keep in mind regarding this statue in downtown Owensboro and regarding our shared histories.
The courthouse that stands on Second Street was not Daviess County’s original courthouse. In the mid-1860s at the height of the Civil War, the Daviess County Courthouse was burned to the ground by a group of Confederate guerrillas who had orders to burn every courthouse housing United States Colored Troops; there were three companies of USCT troops bunkering in our courthouse.
We must ask ourselves if these are actions of heroes, or actual traitors of the United States that did not fight in defense of America, or its Constitution, but for its destruction.
Ever since that day on the courthouse lawn, I wonder how many people have a similar story to that fifth grader. How many stories like this will we allow?
The courthouse lawn represents who we are now, not who we were. In our community, we want every child to live up to their God-given potential. What does this statue say about the beliefs of our community? The simple question we must ask ourselves is, do we believe that the Confederates are OUR heroes? If they are not our heroes, then we must move it, to move our community forward together.