The Jefferson Davis Monument. Wikipedia photo
The Jefferson Davis Monument. Wikipedia photo

Tell the world that I only loved America.”

So ends Shelby Foote's epic trilogy The Civil War. The speaker was not Abraham Lincoln. It was Jefferson Davis.

On Monday, Aug. 21, the United States of America will be covered by a solar eclipse, an event that doesn't come along very often. Not all of the USA will have a total eclipse. It won't be total here in Lee County. But much of the nation will be plunged into total darkness for a couple minutes. Ground zero for the solar eclipse – a place with complete eclipse – is Hopkinsville, Ky.

A few miles down the road from Hopkinsville is Fairview, Ky., where on June 3, 1808 Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy, was born. The Jefferson Davis Monument sits on a state-maintained 19-acre park there.

We all know the eclipse is coming, but the nation was blindsided over the weekend by the abhorrent violence in Charlottesville, Va., spawned by a racist march. In lockstep with that march and its dreadful consequences, the nation watches as monuments to the Confederacy come down. Right here in Lee County, the commissioners have been asked by the NAACP to take down the large portrait of Robert E. Lee in the commission chambers.

Lee is the boilerplate example of the conundrum we find ourselves in right now amidst the new uprising to remove memorials to the Confederacy that, quite frankly, are all over the South and in many other states too. Lee was a great general who made the decision to fight for his home state of Virginia. After the war he embraced the restoration of the nation. But for all of his greatness on and off the battlefield, Lee must still be viewed as a man who chose to fight for the South and, in doing so, fought to continue slavery. How, exactly, should the nation treat Robert E. Lee?

I'm from the North. When I drive through the South I occasionally see large Confederate flags extended in the wind. It's a good-looking flag, but it always sends chills through me when I see it. That, I say to myself, should not be flying. Pretty as it is, it is a symbol of American history's worst chapter and should not be displayed.

It was a long time ago, about 1973, when I visited the Jefferson Davis Monument outside of Hopkinsville. The sun was eclipsed by a heavy cloud cover and a friend and I were the only ones there. The monument looked lonely and forgotten, just like Jefferson Davis in his final years. Now, all these years later, monuments like this one are under attack. Are monuments like the Davis monument, or the Lee portrait, not the same as the Confederate flag?

The Davis Monument is an imposing structure. It's the tallest unreinforced concrete structure in the world and the tallest concrete obelisk in the world. It is the second tallest obelisk in the world behind only the Washington Monument. Despite these statistics, Jeff Davis' Monument sits largely alone on the Kentucky countryside, a scant two hours down the road from where Lincoln was born.

Alone until now, that is. The eclipse is coming to Hopkinsville. We know that for certain. If the current movement to remove Confederate memorials continues, it will be almost certain that the Davis Monument will come under attack. What will the Commonwealth of Kentucky do then?

We cannot erase history. What should come of all these monuments to the Confederacy? Many, if not most of them, honor the common soldier who fought bravely without ever thinking about slavery. How should we treat them? They fought on the wrong side, the side that was fighting for slavery. It will be difficult to eclipse them all. Should we even try? After all, it is our history, good or bad, and men like Jefferson Davis believed that their cause was noble.

Tell the world that I only loved America.” Soldiers, Blue or Gray, could easily have said the same thing. Bring down racism. That's more important than bringing down the memories of what got us to where we are today.