The Melville Fuller statue in front of the old Kennebec County courthouse Tuesday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The Kennebec County commissioners are expected to take up the matter of a controversial statue that sits outside the county courthouse at their Feb. 16 meeting — six months after they were asked to remove it from it current site.

The statue depicts Augusta-native Melville Fuller, who as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States presided over the court that decided Plessy v. Ferguson, which institutionalized the “separate but equal” doctrine and racial discrimination in the United States for about six decades.

On Tuesday, Patsy Crockett, chairwoman of the commissioners, said no public comment will be taken at that meeting.

“We’ll see if we can agree to come up with a vote that day,” Crockett said. “And if not, we’ll vote later. I would hope we would vote that day.”

In August, the Maine Judicial Branch sent a letter to the commissioners asking them to consider moving the bronze statue from its location outside the courthouse. That request came following weeks of national debate and protest, ignited in part by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police, when monuments tied to the country’s racist past were torn down or moved out of public view.

The letter, signed by Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said Maine’s judicial officers were asked whether having the Fuller statue as the only monument to the state’s justice system “is consistent with the values that the Maine Judicial Branch aspires to stand for.”

“The responses revealed an overwhelming consensus that the presence of the statue in its location is not consistent with our values, because the association between Chief Justice Fuller and the Plessy decision is so profound, and Maine judges do not want to be linked to that association,” the letter states. “Given our commitment to racial justice, we should take every opportunity to examine and re-examine our positions, policies and practices.

“We believe that the statue should not continue to be the monument that members of the public see as they approach the courthouse,” the letter continues.

The Judicial Branch doesn’t own the statue or the land on which it sits.

In 2013, the bronze statue that stands a little less than 4-feet tall and the granite block it sits on were installed at the courthouse. The monument was a gift to the county from Robert Fuller Jr., a relative of the elder Fuller.

On Dec. 1, the county commissioners held a virtual public hearing on the matter via Zoom, which drew comments from 16 people that spanned from melting it down to making plumbing fixtures to keeping it in place with a plaque providing historical context. Others suggested moving it to another location.

The commissioners also have been accepting written comments — many from lawyers — which also cover a range of opinions from allowing it to remain unchanged, allowing it to remain with added historical context and removing it.

Crockett said Tuesday what happens after Feb. 16 depends on the decision of the commissioners.

“If the decision was to move it, then the big decision will be where would you move it?” she said. “I don’t feel like we should be asking places to take it, because then it sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.”

While that decision is still weeks away, county officials are now talking about creating a process or drafting a policy on accepting gifts such as statues or other memorials that would involve some sort of public input.

Robert Devlin, county administrator, said he would start the process by asking officials in other counties about their policies on accepting gifts.

The Plessy v. Ferguson decision stood until it was overturned in 1954 by the high court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

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