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The Town That Wanted Louisville's Confederate Monument

The guys at the Dairy Queen in Brandenburg do a lot of talking.They meet nearly every morning. They sip coffee, maybe eat breakfast and discuss their world.On a recent weekday – talk turned to Charlottesville and the aftermath.The subject has flooded news and conversations just like this one across the country after white supremacists clashed with anti-racists protesters and one woman died.Mike Dunn said it's tough to please everyone, all the time."We all got our gripes," he said.Dunn, 73, has his gripes, too.Right now it's with people who want to take down Confederate statues in cities across the country.He echoed President Donald Trump, asking if people will soon call for the removal of other monuments, like the White House."Slaves helped build it, too," he said.The other guys here seem to agree.William Avitt said Confederate monuments aren't any different than other statues."If you’re going to get rid of them, get rid of all statues," he said.Avitt, 69, and the other guys are specifically fond of the 70-foot tall monument that sits on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Brandenburg – a small Kentucky town about 40 miles south of Louisville.

The obelisk pays homage to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.It was first erected in 1895 and until last year stood near the campus of the University of Louisville. For years, activists had wanted the monument gone – and their wishes were granted last year when the university and city officials announced it’d be moved to a different location.At the time, it wasn’t clear just where the statue would be moved to. But during a public hearing to figure that out, Brandenburg officials made it clear: they wanted it.The town now finds itself in an unusual situation - wanting a Confederate monument when many in the world want them all gone.(Here's where all of the publicly-supported Confederate monuments are in Kentucky:

"We’re not afraid to stand up for what we think is right and what we believe," said Debra Masterson, who works with the small city's tourism department.She said the city has historical ties to the Civil War. During what's now known as Morgan's raid, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River at Brandenburg into Indiana."We have this connection," she said.Masterson said the city’s history makes it an ideal location for such a monument. She dismissed the idea some hold that Confederate memorials can keep alive sentiments of racism – or slavery. She says it’s art, and they’re beautiful statues. Plus, the one in Brandenburg is bringing in tourists."It’s not about black or white, it’s about the green for us, it’s just been a boon for the community," she said.The monument today sits on a grassy knoll near the Ohio River. Bronze statues of soldiers flank its sides and another stands atop the monument – gazing south.Officials unveiled it on Memorial Day earlier this year. Some 400 people attended the event, which included men dressed as Confederate soldiers and a band that played Dixie, a song with lyrics glamorizing days in the antebellum south.Jack Vanover lives in an apartment just a few hundred feet from the monument and doesn't have a problem with it.In fact, the 17-year-old has a pretty clear message to those that are calling for monuments like this to go."I guess they’re just too involved with the past, just move on," he said. "That was then, this is now."And it's not clear if anyone else will have a problem with it, either.In a conversation with WFPL News earlier this week, confederate monument expert Kirk Savage made a distinction between honoring these monuments in front of civic buildings, and using them in historical parks like this one."There’s definitely a place for them in the retelling of history," he said.But back at the Dairy Queen, the group of guys isn't sure what will become of the monument. Mike Dunn says his small town is quiet and peaceful now – but if news is any indication – that may soon change."When they tear it down, they’ll be a lot of people to come help," he said.He says if other Confederate monuments around the country are coming down, there’s no reason this one won’t, too. Even if they do like it.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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