City and county contributions sought for Ned Breathitt statue

Edward T. "Ned" Breathitt Jr., a Hopkinsville native and Kentucky's 51st governor, is remembered for helping win passage of the first civil rights bill in a Southern state.

A life-size, bronze statue of the late Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr., a Hopkinsville native and Kentucky’s 51st governor, will go in front of the Christian County Courthouse within a year, the project’s organizers estimate. 

Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr.

“This is an important part of our history,” Mike Foster, the retired county attorney and a former law partner of Breathitt’s, told Hoptown Chronicle. “A committee has been working on it for a couple of years.”

Breathitt, a Democrat, was 39 years old when he took office as governor on Dec. 10, 1963. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to win passage of the first civil rights bill adopted in a Southern state. He’s also remembered for expanding the state park system and economic development.

At Thursday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Mayor Wendell Lynch recommended that city council allocate $25,000 for the statue. It will be sculpted by the late governor’s son, Edward T. Breathitt III. The council voted to table a decision until after Christian Fiscal Court determines how much the county will contribute.

So far, individual donors have given $90,000 toward the statue, which will cost approximately $160,000, said Foster. It will depict Breathitt seated on a bench.

The Pennyroyal Arts Council is handling the fundraising arm of the project. Foster said the arts council was a natural choice to help shepherd the project because it is based at the Alhambra Theatre next door to the courthouse.

“That area gets a lot of foot traffic with people going in and out of the Alhambra,” he said. 

ned breathitt
Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr. speaks during a campaign rally in March 1963 at the Kentucky Fairgrounds’s Freedom Hall in Louisville. (Screenshot from Edward T. Ned Breathitt films, ExploreUK)

Margaret Prim, the arts council’s executive director, said the statue will be a teaching tool for local children who attend events at the theatre. She said there might be an opportunity to incorporate audio from a Breathitt speech that would complement the lesson the statue provides. 

The governor’s son has been a sculptor for more than 30 years. He is based in India and has a studio and foundry in New Delhi.

He describes his work as “representational art with an emphasis on classical realism.” Among his commissioned pieces are several in Kentucky, including a statue of Murray State University’s founding president, Rainy T. Wells, on that campus. 

His sister, Linda Breathitt, of Lexington, has been working with the committee to have a statue of her father placed on the courthouse grounds.

Lynch said the statue would honor the late governor’s accomplishments while also boosting local tourism.

City and county contributions sought for Ned Breathitt statue

Jennifer P. Brown | Hoptown Chronicle

Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org. She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.