Lexington uses private funds to take down two Confederate statues

The city of Lexington this week used private funds to remove two Confederate statues that had stood downtown for more than 130 years, and private donations will also pay for the monuments' upkeep in the cemetery where they're set to reside.

A Tuesday opinion by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear allowed the city to begin removing the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John Breckinridge, a former U.S. Vice President and the last Confederate Secretary of War.

A small, "peaceful" crowd gathered to cheer on the removal of the statues, officials said, though others protested as the monuments were plucked from their bases by large cranes.

Previously, city officials had said the board of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission had to approve the statues’ removal. However, Beshear’s opinion stated the commission doesn't have jurisdiction over them.

In a letter to the Lexington Cemetery obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told the board of the cemetery private donors have started an endowment to pay for the upkeep and security of the Confederate statues if the cemetery will take them.

The Lexington council voted unanimously to move the statues in August and the board of the cemetery tentatively agreed to take them last month. Both Morgan and Breckinridge are buried at the cemetery.

"This site was a place where slaves were auctioned. It's not the place to glorify and honor men who fought to preserve slavery."

— Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

Two businesses—Prometheus Bronze Foundry and Duncan Machinery Movers—said in September they would move the statues for free.

In addition, the Kentucky nonprofit Blue Grass Community Foundation is raising funds “to establish an endowment to fund the lifetime maintenance and security of the statues and other issues that may arise,” according to Gray's letter.

A city spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader the nonprofit has received pledges of a little more than $100,000.

That endowment could also be used to clean two existing Confederate-era statues on the cemetery’s grounds, the letter to the board said.

Gray had called for the removal of the statues on Aug. 12, as deadly clashes unfolded in Charlottesville, Va.

After that violence, dozens of people asked the Lexington council to remove the statues.

Gray was criticized for proposing the removal of the statues. Critics, including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, questioned if Gray, and the city, was sanitizing history.

"We are absolutely not sanitizing and we are not destroying," Gray told Fox News. "We're putting these statues in the proper context out of the center of the city where they're being glorified today. This site was a place where slaves were auctioned. It's not the place to glorify and honor men who fought to preserve slavery."

Fox News' Matt Finn contributed to this report.