Arts and Culture

The statue of John Breckinridge Castleman in Louisville’s Cherokee Triangle is gone. City crews removed the controversial statue of Castleman on a horse in the early hours of Monday morning.

The statue’s removal comes after nearly three years of vandalism, protests and calls for it to be taken down. It also comes after eleven days of protests for racial justice and against police brutality, sparked by the police killing of Black people like Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Castleman served in both the U.S. and Confederate armies; the statue portrays him in civilian clothes, but the historical markers nearby mention both his Confederate service and his role in establishing Louisville’s parks system.

Ashlie Stevens | wfpl.org

The Castleman statue after being vandalized in 2018.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the city would remove the statue in August 2018. The Landmarks Commission approved the move, but the decision was appealed by local residents. Last week, a circuit court upheld Louisville Metro’s position.

In a news release, Fischer said moving this statue isn’t an effort to erase history.

“But 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,” he wrote. “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.”

For 27 years,  Heidi Kinney could look down on the statue from her window in Cherokee Triangle. This morning as she was getting ready for work, she watched as city crews took the statue down.

“I know there has been talk of removing it and it’s kind of sad for us,” she said. “All the background that I knew about him, I didn’t think he was a racist person or had slaves or anything like that, but who am I to say, I don’t know.”

Mallory Jennings saw a post on Facebook and rushed out to see what was happening in her neighborhood.

“I put on some clothes real quick, brushed my teeth, I didn’t want to miss what was going on,” she said.

Jennings said it’s been a long fight, not just here in Louisville, but around the country as people call for the removal of statutes that signify racial oppression.

“I think the right moment could have been decades ago to be honest, but I’m just glad to see that… if this is right moment I will take any moment,” Jennings said. “It feels nice to have it maybe replaced with something that stands for what our great city is all about.”

In a press release, a group called Friends of Louisville Public Art that had appealed the city’s decision to remove Castleman said they would continue their opposition.

“Once again, Louisville Metro has shown it has no regard for the requirements of the judicial system,” Attorney Steve Porter wrote. He said even though a circuit court judged ruled in favor of the city on June 5, his group had 10 days to file a motion to overturn that decision.

“The Circuit Court failed to consider the major points of law contained in our original complaint and we will ask the Court to reconsider. Failing that, my clients then have a thirty-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,” Porter wrote.

This story has been updated.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.