BY MICHON LINDSTROM KENTUCKY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — An empty space is what you see in the Kentucky State Capitol rotunda. It was once home to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and now a group of lawmakers wants to see that space occupied by a notable Kentucky woman.
“We just feel like it’s high time to see ourselves represented,” Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said. .
Willner chairs the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus and along with the 19 other members sent a letter to Gov. Andy Beshear (D) requesting the statue used to replace Davis is a woman.
“We think this is such an important moment with the recent removal of the Jefferson Davis statue,” Willner said. “Its an opportunity to really reflect on who has been represented and who is missing, whose missing in terms of imagery in the capitol.”
Willner and the caucus gave several suggestions of women they would like to see in the capitol including:
- State Senator Georgia Powers, the first woman and first person of color elected to the chamber and leading voice in the civil rights movement
- Mary Elliott Flannery, the first woman elected to the legislature south of the Mason-Dixon Line
- Anne Braden, another civil rights champion who advocated for racial justice in Jefferson County and across the nation
- Alice Dunnigan, the first African-American to have a capitol press badge in Washington D.C. and also the first African-American woman to lead the Women’s National Press Club.
- bell hooks, an author, a feminist scholar, and social activist.
- Anna Mae Clark, the first African-American woman to be a commanding officer of a regiment in the Women’s Army Army Corp in World War II.
- Alberta Odell Jones, a civil rights leader who became the first African-American woman to pass the Kentucky bar and the first African-American women to become a city attorney in Jefferson County
- Governor Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky’s only female governor
- Of the eight people named — five are Black women.
“A statue of especially an African-American woman, can you imagine the unveiling? What that would mean historically and the folks who would see themselves represented in the Capitol Rotunda for the very first time,” Willner said. “I think it would be an attraction for many, many years and generations to come.”
Currently, first ladies and Gov. Collins are featured on the first floor of the capitol as dolls.
“The first ladies and in, one instance, Governor Martha Layne Collins are represented not for their intelligence or accomplishments or talents or their aspirations but for their fashion,” Willner said. “That sends a very strange message and in 2020 I think it’s time to send a different message.”
While the statue is being built Willner would like the space to be used to educate visitors about Kentuckians who may have gone unacknowledged for years.
“Women, people of color, native Americans from Kentucky,” Willner said. “It’s just a fantastic opportunity to lift up the faces and the images of people who have for too long been pushed to the edges.”
Sen. Chris McDaniels, R-Taylor Mill, has proposed replacing the empty space with Chief Carl Brashear.