Arts and Culture

After nearly two years of debate, the city of Louisville has been granted approval to remove a controversial statue.

The Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission on Thursday approved a motion to move the controversial John Breckinridge Castleman statue from the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood.

The Castleman statue has been a source of public debate since it was first vandalized in August 2017, shortly after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Castleman was integral in developing Louisville’s park system — and he also served in the Confederacy.

Shortly after the August 2017 protests surrounding the statue, it was vandalized with orange paint. It would go on to be vandalized three more times — including once with the words “Racist” and “Traitor.”

This kickstarted a series of public meetings about the statue’s fate, and in December 2017, Fischer created a new Louisville Public Art and Monuments Committee. It was tasked with creating guidelines for the city’s public art and attempted to answer what kind of people should be honored with monuments.

The meetings continued for over six months. The public was outspoken and opinion was mixed.

In July 2018, the committee handed over its recommendations to Fischer who announced in August — one year after debate first began — that the Castleman statue needed to come down.

In a statement, he said the monument didn’t “reflect the current values” of Louisville.

But then Fischer’s plan hit several snags.

The Castleman statue is located within a historic preservation district, which means that the proposal for removal had to be approved by the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee. The final vote was 3-to-3, and without a majority vote the motion for removal was struck down.

Fischer’s office filed an appeal with the Landmarks Commission, which made the final decision Thursday. It was decided by two votes. Chris Hartman chairs the commission, and voted for removal.

“I am saddened that it has taken us this long to come to this conclusion, but I am glad that we have,” he said.

In recent years, cities from New Orleans, Louisiana to nearby Lexington, Kentucky, have grappled with the fate of their own Confederate monuments.

In 2016, Louisville city officials removed a 70-foot-tall monument to fallen Confederate soldiers located on the University of Louisville’s campus. But to many, the Castleman statue was different; even Fischer described it as having “many more nuances.”

Castleman served in the Confederate army, and though he was pardoned for his service, he requested his casket be draped with both the American and Confederate flags — which for many, was reason enough to remove the monument.

But the statue depicts Castleman in plain clothes, instead of a Confederate uniform. And it’s  at the entrance to one of the city’s largest parks, which some say it is meant to honor Castleman’s work in developing the city’s parks system. For many, that was reason enough for the statue to stay.

The Castleman statue will now be moved to Cave Hill Cemetery where its subject is buried.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.