Louisville’s controversial Castleman statue becomes latest Confederate relic to be removed

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After years of public debate, the controversial statue of John B. Castleman was removed by Louisville city officials Monday.

Crews began work on taking down the statue in Louisville’s Cherokee Triangle around 6 a.m. local time and moved it to a storage facility. According to the city, the plan is to place the statue at Cave Hill Cemetery, where Castleman is buried.

Negotiations with the cemetery are ongoing, the city said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has wanted to remove the statue for years, arguing it’s a hurtful relic of history because of Castleman’s Confederate ties.

A lawsuit filed in 2019 by a Louisville arts group slowed the process – but on Friday, a Jefferson Circuit Court Judge affirmed the city’s ability to remove the statue.

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The removal of the statue comes after 11-straight days and nights of protests over the police shootings of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee. On Monday, Fischer said, “The events of the past weeks have shown clearly that it’s not enough just to face our history – we’ve got to address its impact on our present.

“Too many people are suffering today because the promises of justice and equality enshrined in our Constitution are unfulfilled by a society that devalues African-American lives and denies African Americans justice, opportunity and equity. That’s got to change. People want and deserve action. We need a transformation.”

Ben Tobin@TobinBen

Breaking: The statue of Confederate soldier John Castleman is currently being removed by the city of #Louisville at Cherokee Triangle.10.7K12:45 PM – Jun 8, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy2,731 people are talking about this

Was John Castleman a racist whose statue deserves to come down? Here’s the whole story

The chronology of a controversy:How the Castleman statue went from revered to reviled

Castleman joined Confederate army, later renounced its cause

Constructed in 1913, the 15-foot bronze statue has drawn controversy – and attracted vandals – related to Castleman’s time in the Confederate army serving under John Hunt Morgan, the notorious leader of Morgan’s Raiders.

Born 20 years before the Civil War, Castleman grew up on his family’s estate, Castleton, near Lexington, Kentucky, in a mansion “colonial and commodious,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Active Service 19,” published in 1917, the year before his death.

Castleman dropped out of school at the age of 20 to join the Confederate Army, rising the ranks to become a major. In 1916, Castleman renounced the Confederate cause, and during World War I, he condemned three white soldiers who refused to salute a black captain.

He died in 1918.

A century later, Fischer announced his intention to remove the statue. 

“Although John B. Castleman made civic contributions to Louisville, he also fought to keep men, women and children bonded in the chains of slavery and touted his role in the Civil War in his autobiography years later,” he said in February, after the city’s Landmarks Commission voted 5-3 to allow the city to move the statue.Terry Crews’ tweet about ‘Black Supremacy’ prompts social media backlashTreasure chest worth $1M found in Rocky Mountains after decade searchCrossFit CEO’s comment on George Floyd stirs outrage in community70 retailers donating to black social justice organizations-and how much they’re givingGet the latest news straight to your phone: Download the USA TODAY app

Stephen Porter, who filed a lawsuit for Friends of Louisville Public Art, the Louisville Historic League and several individuals last year over the city’s decision to remove the statue, said Monday that with the removal, Fischer’s administration “has shown it has no regard for the requirements of the judicial system.”

Porter said Monday he is filing a motion this week for the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate or overturn its decision to allow the city to remove the Castleman statue.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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“The Circuit Court failed to consider the major points of law contained in our original complaint and we will ask the court to reconsider,” Porter said in a statement. “Failing that, my clients then have a 30-day period to file an appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

“Louisville Metro has no right to remove the Castleman statue until all court processes are exhausted.”

Several residents in the area and activists came to Cherokee Triangle Monday morning to watch the statue being removed. One person at the site was Louisville Metro Councilman Brandon Coan, D-8th District, who has previously lobbied to have the statue removed.

“I’m really glad to see it was taken down and how easily it was taken down, because you can obviously imagine situations where it came down a very different, loud, violent, messy way,” said Coan, whose district includes Cherokee Triangle.

“People are demanding action and not just words,” Coan said of recent protests. “And this is a silent, quiet act that speaks volumes, and we need to see a lot more things like this going forward for a long time.”

Another person at the site Monday morning, Carla Wallace, brought a sign that said “Take It Down.” The member of Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice said she has been working for three years to get the statue removed.

“This is a legacy of the history of oppression in this country of Black Americans,” Wallace said. “It’s a legacy of slavery and a legacy of the continued issues that we’re struggling with today.”

Nick Morris, a small business owner who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, said he was “very upset and disappointed that this happened.”

“To me, the statue is an icon of the neighborhood. It has been here for over 100 years, and it’s been the symbol of the Cherokee Triangle,” Morris said.

“I think most people were not willing to look at all of the facts about Castleman, his complete history. He did very much good for Louisville. And he did have his stage with the Confederacy, but when you look at the big picture, I believe he deserved to stay.”

The removal of the statue comes as a wave of elected officials have announced their intentions to remove Confederate monuments amid protests nationwide.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear that the statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy and a Kentucky native, should be removed from the rotunda of the state Capitol building in Frankfort.

“I believe the Jefferson Davis statue is a symbol that divides us, and even if there are those that think it’s a part of history, there should be a better place to put it in historic context,” Beshear said during a press briefing.

And in Virginia, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army and a Virginia native, “will be removed as soon as possible” from Richmond, the commonwealth’s capitol. The monument had been there for more than a century.

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