Ahead of its removal from campus, Western Kentucky University administrators deliberated over the fate of a historical marker noting Bowling Green as the former state capital of the Confederacy – including the possibility of moving it to Fairview Cemetery, where dozens of Confederate soldiers have been laid to rest.
Correspondence obtained by the Daily News through an open records request shows that the process for removing the marker, previously located along WKU’s prominent College Heights Boulevard, began with a formal letter from President Timothy Caboni.
The letter was sent to Kentucky Historical Society Executive Director Scott Alvey on Aug. 10, and in it, Caboni wrote that “We believe history should be placed in context, and that context would be better provided in a new location.”
Caboni wrote that the marker was originally installed on a stretch of federal highway that has since come under the university’s ownership and that the marker – which notes that Bowling Green was named the Confederate state capital in 1861 – has no connection to WKU, which was established in 1906.
Caboni also wrote that the marker had alienated some on campus.
“We have been approached by several members of our campus community who have told us they find the content of the marker offensive or that it makes them feel uncomfortable because of the Confederacy’s strong connection to slavery. Recently, our Student Government Association passed a resolution asking the marker to be removed,” Caboni wrote at the time.
Alvey, the head of the Kentucky Historical Society, wrote back in agreement a few days later and informed Caboni of plans to have the regional office of the state’s Department of Transportation remove and store the marker “as we evaluate a suitable location.” By Aug. 19, that had taken place, Alvey wrote in a follow-up email at the time.
Alvey did not immediately respond to an email sent Thursday asking for any update on a potential new location for the marker, but in emailed correspondence between Alvey and WKU Historian David Lee, the idea of displaying it at Fairview Cemetery was raised.
“We’ve thought about Fairview Cemetery, but they haven’t been asked,” Lee wrote in one email to Alvey after he requested suggestions for a new location. “There is already a Confederate monument out there – something of an obelisk – surrounded by about 70 graves of Confederate soldiers, mostly unidentified, buried in concentric circles.”
This is at least the second time WKU has removed marker 67. After the marker was removed for about 18 months during Hilltopper Hall’s construction, it was returned to a spot along College Heights Boulevard in February of 2019, albeit closer to the Kentucky Museum than its previous location.
Asked in an interview why the marker was returned to its spot if campus administrators felt it was out of context, WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said the university planned to reinstall it there after the nearby construction of Hilltopper Hall concluded.
“It was after that when we started getting comments from students and a few faculty members,” about the marker, Skipper said. Later that month, WKU’s Student Government Association approved a resolution asking for its removal.
Unlike Fort Lytle, a Confederate fort at the top of WKU’s hill that was captured and named after a Union officer, Skipper said the marker holds no specific connection to WKU. The fort, which was previously known as Fort Albert Sidney Johnston after a Confederate general, is on land now owned by the university. Johnston, commander of all the western forces of the Confederacy, had his headquarters in Bowling Green in a house at the corner of Adams Street and 10th Avenue, according to Daily News archives.
The Confederate capital marker could potentially make sense along any roadside in Bowling Green, Skipper said.
The move comes as WKU is reexamining the names of buildings and academic units on campus.
The namesakes of WKU’s Potter College of Arts and Letters and its Ogden College of Science and Engineering historically held people as slaves and came from slaveholding families, according to WKU Historian David Lee.
Caboni has announced the formation of a task force to examine “problematic” names on campus.
The group will “conduct a thorough examination of the history of WKU’s namings, explore options for how we might address those that might be problematic and make recommendations for university leadership to consider,” Caboni wrote in a recent campus message.
Caboni hasn’t placed a timeline on the task force’s work.