"The Weakness of Human Judgement"

The Jefferson Davis Monument in Kentucky

In 1909, the settlement of Fairview, KY dedicated a park to CSA President Jefferson Davis. The park commemorated Davis on “the 101^st^ anniversary of [his] birth… at his birthplace,” according to an article covering the event in the Richmond Planet.[1] A monument was designed and finally completed in 1924, which at the time was believed to be “the second highest shaft in the United States” at 361 feet, falling short only of the Washington Monument in D.C.[2]

When the monument came up, the Chicago Defender published a column by Roscoe Simmons, a Black journalist and activist—known as a powerful orator—describing his encounter with the obelisk, which he referred to as “that reminder of a great intellect, a lost cause, the weakness of human judgment, the hand of God.”[3]

Simmons described how he had traveled with a group of Black intellectuals to Attucks High School to discuss the state of Black education. This was the prompt for him to reflect:

Suppose Davis and Lee had succeeded. Maybe no Attucks High, no Lawyer Robinson, no Teacher Sleet, no Postelle to receive a fortune from a wise, sturdy father, no Elkton School, no pen in this writer’s hand, no place for him to do much ‘speaking,’ no time for you to read.

Simmons’ criticisms of Davis were measured—perhaps a reflection of the difficulty of speaking out against white supremacy in the 1920s, even in the North—but he offered an incisive criticism of the commemoration of Davis. The political vision defended by Davis and Lee would have left Blacks almost entirely without education, opportunity, or leisure 60 years later.

Justin Seward


Richmond Planet. “Jefferson Davis Memorial.” Richmond Planet, June 5, 1909, 7.

St. Paul Recorder. “Roscoe Simmons, Orator Par Excellence.” St. Paul Recorder, May 18, 1951, 4.

Chicago Defender. “The Davis Monument.” Chicago Defender, June 14, 1924

  1. Richmond Planet, “Jefferson Davis Memorial.” ↩︎

  2. Chicago Defender, “The Davis Monument.” ↩︎

  3. St. Paul Recorder, “Roscoe Simmons, Orator Par Excellence.” ↩︎