Oct. 17, 2022 marks five years since the monuments of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan were moved from the site formerly known as Cheapside to the Lexington Cemetery. In discussions regarding the removal of the monuments, one of the contingencies per tax credit agreements between the city and the Commonwealth was that nothing could be removed from or added to the space for five years upon completion of the restoration of the old courthouse.
Those five years have now passed, and we are looking forward to what comes next. In the time since the statues came down, we have been quietly working in the background to manifest the third and final point of our original Three Point Plan: to focus on healing the space and helping create a more inclusive and welcoming community. Take Back Cheapside partnered with the Bluegrass Community Foundation and the city on the project that was ReImagine Cheapside. We have organized community walks and discussions. We have facilitated conversations with kids in our community to learn how they would like to see our city reimagined. We have even hosted a witnessing circle where the names of formerly enslaved people were read aloud. As recently as this year, we collaborated with the Fayette County Clerk, UK Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, the Lexington Black Prosperity Initiative, and BGCF to introduce the Digital Access Project, a program that will lead to the digitization of over 60,000 pages of documents, including the records of enslaved people dating from the 1700s – 1865.
In 2020, Cheapside Park was formally renamed Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park, after a man whose legacy influenced much of the movement. The first time I publicly spoke about the monuments was at a community forum, hosted at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, a building whose bricks were laid by Mr. Tandy himself. Unbeknownst to me, I have been surrounded by Mr. Tandy’s work the entire time I have lived in Lexington. As a student at the University of Kentucky, I spent a lot of time in Miller Hall. When I worked at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, his former home stood two doors down, and I walked past those pink painted bricks every day. The old courthouse, the restoration of which was central to Take Back Cheapside, is yet another example of Mr. Tandy’s handiwork.
While Mr. Tandy’s legacy was fundamental to the birth and execution of Take Back Cheapside, his is not the only story that deserves more recognition. The more I learn about Lexington’s history, the more Black excellence I find swept under the rug. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and it is important for us to remember and acknowledge their accomplishments as we work toward healing and reconciliation. We as a community should strive to preserve and uplift these stories that are often unintentionally forgotten, or intentionally erased.
The mission of Take Back Cheapside has always been about educating the community and combating misinformation about our history, hence our motto (as quoted by Lucille Clifton) “Tending to the Past.” In an effort to preserve these old stories and present new ones, Elijah McKenzie of KY Place has directed “Taking Cheapside,” a documentary five years in the making. The film tells the real history of Cheapside, and highlights stories of Black excellence throughout Lexington’s past.
On Saturday, Oct. 15 at 6pm, the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center will be hosting a screening of “Taking Cheapside” commemorating the five-year anniversary of the statue relocation. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Carol Taylor-Shim, Executive Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University of Kentucky. The event is free, but we are asking that those who are able make a donation directly to the Lyric Theatre so they may continue to serve our community for generations to come.
DeBraun Thomas is a musician, community organizer, and radio host & producer in Lexington, and the co-creator of the Take Back Cheapside movement.