City at crossroads, should rename Cheapside, business owners say

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A handful of businesses and property owners around Cheapside Park in downtown Lexington have signed a letter saying the city is at a “crossroads in history” and should rename the park, which got its name as a slave market in the 1800s.

The letter was delivered this week to Mayor Linda Gorton.

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In the letter, the group said, “We are keenly aware of the ongoing events that are challenging our cultural institutions and fomenting disruption across our city and country. As city leaders thoughtfully consider long-term changes to law enforcement policy, we urge immediate steps toward healing for our community  through a renaming of and proper memorialization at this area in the heart of Lexington.”

Renaming the area has been one of the demands of protesters who have walked city streets during the last moth and rallied at the nearby courthouse as part of social injustice and police reform efforts sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

Gorton alread has suggested it’s time to review some of the Confederate statues in the area.

The letter outlines Cheapside’s history and maintains it is time for the city and history to “recognize the atrocities perpetrated there.”

“Cheapside was not only home to the largest slave-trading locality in the commonwealth, it was the most well­ known of the slave market districts. Amongst many other cruelties, Black people were beaten and families separated forever as they were auctioned and sold at Cheapside,” the signees said.

“Cheapside also has the historical distinction of previously being the host for the sale of what was known as ‘fancy girls’ which were ‘young women of mixed race sold as sex slaves,’ according to Winston Coleman’s 1940 book Slavery Times in Kentucky.

“Thousands of Black children, women and men passed through this space unwillingly, in terror and trauma. By 1860, one in four residents of our city was a slave with most personally encountering trauma and terror at Cheapside. Even as some of their descendants live, work, and raise families in the Lexington community today, carrying the weight of this history, there has never been a meaningful recognition by the City of Lexington of the atrocities perpetrated here at Cheapside Park generations ago. This recognition is overdue,” the letter states.

“We believe at this crossroads in history, it is incumbent upon.,the City to recognize the time has come for Cheapside Park to be renamed something far more appropriate to this era, and the community’s current and future use of the park, and for a respectful, permanent memorialization of the Cheapside’s fraught history. These efforts must defer to the voices of those in our community who now call for change and of those who have long called for change: to address their concerns in a conciliatory fashion, relieve the confrontational atmosphere, and solve the problem,” continues the letter, which is signed by the owners and managers of Centro, Dos Eles, the Lexington Farmers Market, Bluegrass Tavern, Dudley’s on Short, Nate’s Coffee, Horse and Jocky, Skybar and Oracle Tattoo Guild.

“Recent events have proven it is only by boldly facing and honoring the past that we can heal and move forward together. Rather than allowing the anger and grief from the history of Cheapside to simmer below the surface for yet another generation, we must process it fully. This is an opportunity for Lexington to learn and model how citizens, business owners, and local government can work from a traumatic past toward reconciliation and peace,” the signees boldly stated, calling themselves a “nonpartisan group” requesting the immediate formation of a committee to rename the park a design a monument to be placed there.