Two very significant events unfolded in Pulaski County on Friday — they were very separate, yet naturally intertwined.
In Downtown Somerset, Juneteenth was celebrated with a charette at the Judicial Center Plaza. It was peaceful, it was pleasant and many Pulaski countians gathered in unity, calling for racial equality.
Juneteenth certainly isn’t new, but it’s something many Americans really didn’t know about until recently. And that’s part of the problem. Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Texas, it is now celebrated annually on the 19th of June throughout the United States, with varying official recognition.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed a proclamation Thursday recognizing Juneteenth and said he will encourage state lawmakers to pass a bill next year to recognize it as a state holiday. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.
It’s a little mind-boggling Juneteenth isn’t a National Holiday. It’s a little sad that many of us didn’t learn about Juneteenth in history class.
But it’s never too late to learn. And Friday’s event in Somerset was a proud celebration of Black heritage. Juneteenth was the perfect day to begin meaningful, productive discussion about racism in America.
Meanwhile, just west of Somerset in the Nancy community, there was another gathering.
Because of rumors fueled by social media posts, several hundred citizens from around the region — many of them armed — converged at the Mill Springs National Cemetery, the Mill Springs Battlefield and Zollicoffer Park. They feared outside protesters would come to the area looking to destroy Civil War monuments.
“These were nothing but rumors — there was never anything credible,” said Todd Dalton, a Nancy native, who is the Kentucky State Police Post 11 Commander. “People get worked up when they hear something might happen — and I can understand that. These people are proud of the cemetery and the battlefield ... the history it represents.”
It might be a little unsettling to see men armed with ARs milling around a national park. And there are some who might question their motives.
But here is the bottom line: No one in Nancy bothered anyone. It was a peaceful, albeit armed, gathering.
They were not there to disparage the Juneteenth event in Downtown Somerset. They were not there to cause trouble — they were there to prevent destruction.
No, there probably wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that “Antifa” or any other radical group looking to destroy monuments was going to be brought into a remote area like Nancy to do damage.
That being said, with the climate in our nation right now, could we really rule out someone coming onto those grounds to wreak havoc?
We’ve seen protests in larger cities. We’ve seen beautiful gestures of solidarity, with Black Lives Matter groups kneeling with police officers. But we’ve also seen people there simply to cause destruction.
And it goes without saying there have been many instances of groups destroying or defacing Confederate monuments around the country.
My feeling on Confederate monuments is simple. I don’t think they should be housed on government grounds, like the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda. I supported the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue in Frankfort to a more appropriate place — a museum perhaps. Or perhaps a Civil War battleground.
I think Mill Springs is a prime example of an appropriate venue for a monument to both Union and Confederate soldiers alike. A fierce battle was fought on those hallowed grounds that we all need to remember. We need to understand why these men died — and why it was so crucial that the Union prevailed.
We need to remember why the Civil War was fought.
Without Union victories at Mill Springs and in other Civil War battles, there would be no Juneteenth.
I’m proud of our community today. No one tried to destroy monuments. No one tried to interrupt our Juneteenth event.
There was no violence. No looting.
Somerset and Pulaski County did things the right way. And that is truly something to be proud of.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.