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Back in February, which was Black History Month, Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo suggested that a statue of Muhammad Ali would be a good addition to Capitol Rotunda.
The Kentuckians already honored there are President Abraham Lincoln; Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; Vice President Alban Barkley, statesman Henry Clay and Ephraim McDowell, a pioneering surgeon.
Stumbo’s suggestion has raised an interesting discussion about who should be honored there and Ali doesn’t appear to be a consensus choice.
Other suggestions include Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, a Louisville native, who was instrumental in the breakup of monopolies. Justice William O. Douglas called Brandeis “a militant crusader for social justice. … He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible.” He, like Lincoln, was known as a “people’s lawyer.”
Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky’s first female governor, has been suggested as have Harland Sanders and Duncan Hines, among many others.
Without rehashing the particulars of why Ali may or may not be an appropriate choice, we believe a case should be made for Carl Brashear.
Readers will remember that Brashear, who was from the Sonora area, was the first black American to attend and graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage School, to become a Navy diver, to become a master diver and the first amputee diver to be certified or recertified as a Navy diver. He served in uniform nearly 30 years and worked another 14 years as a civilian at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. He was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and two ships have been named for him. He was the subject of the film “Men of Honor.”
The five statues fit neatly in the rotunda, one between each entrance and Lincoln in the middle. Another statue may indeed, have to “float like a butterfly” above it all. But the discussion begs another question: Is the rotunda still the most appropriate place for a statue of Jefferson Davis?
It’s a fascinating discussion, but for now, that’s all it should be. Any cosmetic changes using public money in these days of furloughs and budget cuts would be misapplied. But when the commonwealth is on a more solid financial footing, we believe Brashear should have a permanent place as a man of honor.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.