NEWPORT, Ky. — At a time when many cities across the United States are removing depictions memorializing slave owners and members of the Confederacy, Newport has just unveiled its newest flood wall mural, which depicts General James Taylor -- the slave owner who founded the city.
"He's pretty significant to the funding of Northern Kentucky... But he did, at the time of his death, in his will, own 40 to 50 enslaved people," said Katie Bramell, with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
The artist behind the project plans to paint Taylor on one of three walls along Dave Cowens Drive. In a video recorded live on Facebook, she described Taylor as a visionary. He founded the city of Newport in 1795 and was important to the history of the Northern Kentucky region.
Bramell said, as statues of slave owners are removed all over the country, the decision to paint Taylor should give people pause.
"As we move into this new space in 2020 and how we're really trying to grapple with racial equity and injustices in this country, there should be definite pause and more done to maybe try and educate the public on these issues," she said.
The City of Newport provided a statement on the decision and said it isn't commemorating Taylor's slave ownership, but rather his and his wife's contributions to the founding of the city.
The full statement reads:
While it is a historical fact that General Taylor was a slave owner, the city is not commemorating his slave ownership. General Taylor and his wife are being memorialized for their contributions to the founding of Newport. The City believes that in Newport's 225th anniversary year that is appropriate. Context is necessary in discussions about historical figures who were slave owners. We should not ignore it, but must also judge each person on an individual and unique basis. It is also important to point out that the city's first floodwall mural paid homage to the City's African-American heritage and also symbolizes the changing attitudes in Newport’s history.
Newport also pointed out that the first mural completed as part of the project pays tribute to the Southgate Street School, the first all-black school in Campbell County.
Bramell said it's important to note that history is complicated and these issues are not simply black and white.
"But I just think that we're in a time right now where we need to start doing better," she said.