Long before the Civil War, Lexington’s courthouse square, known as Cheapside Park (now Henry A. Tandy Park), was the largest locality for the slave trade in the American South. The site also prominently featured two monuments that honored Confederate slave owners John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan. 

“It was a slave auction block, one of the largest during the time,” said Russell Allen, co-founder of Take Back Cheapside. “Around the Reconstruction period is when they began having discussions about putting those statues into place. Around that time, there was a group of Black men that came to speak there and they were shut out.”

Allen is featured in “Taking Cheapside” – the latest film in the KY Place documentary series – which recounts the Take Back Cheapside grassroots campaign that sought to remove the Confederate statues and transform Cheapside Park into a more inclusive space for everyone in Lexington.

“You had two statues of men who stood to uphold chattel slavery,” said DeBraun Thomas, co-founder of Take Back Cheapside, also featured in the film. “There are tunnels that run underneath the courthouse to move people and other goods. The history is still here, but if there’s not a representation of telling the actual story, it is very easy to get lost.”

For Allen and Thomas, the work behind the Take Back Cheapside movement was founded on education and raising awareness about the atrocities that occurred at Cheapside, as well as the historical intent behind all the Confederate statues that seem to exist in front of courthouses across America.

“One of the things that’s important to me, historically, is to ask questions about how those statues came in place there – why are they there?” Asked Richard Schein, a professor of geography at the University of Kentucky who also appears in the documentary. “Cheapside was part of a larger trend going on across the city, across the South, across the nation.”

Directed by Kentucky-based filmmaker Elijah McKenzie, “Taking Cheapside” will make its world premiere on October 15th at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center in Lexington, Kentucky. The event also serves as a time for community reflection and discussion as it marks the five-year anniversary since the Confederate statues were removed from Lexington’s courthouse lawn.

The film screening will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by an audience Q&A with DeBraun Thomas and Russell Allen, co-founders of Take Back Cheapside, and moderated by Carol Taylor-Shim, Executive Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University of Kentucky. 

The event is open to the public and there is no cost to attend, but audience goers are highly encouraged to make a donation to the Lyric Theatre

Content warning: This film contains strong language, disturbing themes, and scenes of violence that may be upsetting to some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

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“Taking Cheapside”
Runtime: 102 minutes (approx.)

Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center
300 E. Third Street
Lexington, KY 40508

Screening: 6:30 p.m.
Audience Q&A: 8 p.m.