Symbols Tell Us Who We Are

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

George Printice was a man of great power and influence in the 1840s and beyond.  As editor of the Louisville Journal, a newspaper considered the “best in the west,” he wrote biting and militant editorials that fed the haters of his day. He was pro-slavery, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic. He and his followers did not like those who were “different.” He wrote about the “pestilent influence of the foreign swarms” loyal to a pope who was “an inflated despot who keeps people kissing his toes all day.”

On August 6, 1855, 22 Irish-Americans and German-Americans were killed by a mob trying to prevent them from voting. “Bloody Monday” followed numerous editorials that fed the bigoted spirits of that day.

Years later, George Printice, who was a member of the “Know Nothing” party (aptly named), was honored with a statue placed in front of the main library in Louisville. Seated in a chair, he presided over the people walking in front of the library every day. The irony of placing a renowned bigot in front of a building that represents learning and the pursuit of truth is stunning.  After numerous protests the statue was removed in 2018.

Why is this story important and why is this statue important? We find similar stories of statues being removed and confederate flags no longer flying around the country. The governor of Virginia has ordered the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Southerners revered Lee and northern generals respected him.  Many southerners are upset, saying, “This is heritage, not hatred,” or “this is history, not hatred.”

Racism comes in many forms. Many African-Americans and white citizens see the confederate flag as a symbol of slavery, lynchings, segregation, and Jim Crow. The confederate flag and these monuments are a vivid reminder of a brutal and painful history.

The Kentucky Capital, with a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in the foreground and Jefferson Davis in the background. Photo by Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press

The rotunda in the state capital of Kentucky hosts a statue of Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky, and Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, also born in Kentucky. The governor of Kentucky has ordered the statue of Davis removed.

We are reminded every day of the consequences of systemic racism. Protests will continue. Demands for changes in state and federal laws that enable abuse by police will continue. Racism is a “pandemic within a pandemic” and will continue as long as we look the other way.

The issue of offensive statues and confederate flags is not trivial. Both stand as signs that racism has a long history that continues today with those monuments as reminders. They continue to be a slap in the face of African-Americans. Our “heritage” needs to be a history of justice for all, freedom for the oppressed poor and marginalized. If we can move forward there will be no need for professional football players to kneel during the national anthem, for people to protest in our streets, or for men and women to die needlessly.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

9 responses to “Symbols Tell Us Who We Are

  1. Thank you, Judy, for your reflection and for all your ministry in social justice. We need to continue to ponder and contemplate all that is happening and then do our part.

  2. Thank you, Judy. Sometimes we no longer see what has become familiar, let alone think about its meaning. This doesn’t apply only to statues!

  3. Excellent blog, Judy! I just wish you could remove the image of the Confederate flag from this post. People who scroll quickly may think that we are glorifying it – exactly the opposite of what you are saying about statues.

  4. Thank you for writing about this topic! It was amazing to me today to see Nascar ban Confederate flags at the races. I was excited and scared, not knowing what type of reaction the fans will have. This is the type of change that is needed to stop the openness of systemic racism. Thank you for casting a light on this subject Sister Judy!

  5. Balanced and excellent reflection on the current situation. Thanks for the clarification on a difficult topic.

  6. Thank you, Sister, for your blog concerning the unholy racism that still exists in our country. Our Confederate statue was finally removed in Memphis after several years of battle. It seems our Tennessee government has a Historical group that will not let a city remove such statues. Finally a man (an African American lawyer) and his friends bought the statue and will be relocating it to a more appropriate place. It seems the Historical Society could not prevent the sale even though the statue was located in a city park.

  7. Judy,

    Thank you so much for this blog…I enjoyed it as a person interested in Kentucky history, but even more so as one who believes that people can change, and do change..
    Jefferson Davis was in his early years for a short time a student at St. Thomas College , the school of St. Rose Priory near St. Catharine, KY….it unfortunate that he didn’t stay longer; perhaps he might have changed…
    Kay Mahady.

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