John B. Castleman monument is being moved this morning

June 8, 2020

The John Breckenridge Castleman monument is being moved this morning from Cherokee Triangle, after a Jefferson Circuit Court judge ruled Friday afternoon that the city has the right to do so.

Crews began work at about 6 a.m. The statue is being taken to a city storage facility for cleaning, in anticipation of a move to Cave Hill Cemetery, where Castleman is buried; the plinth below it will be moved later. Negotiations with Cave Hill about the move are ongoing.

Mayor Greg Fischer announced plans to move the Castleman monument, as well as one of George Dennison Prentice, in August 2018, after reviewing a report issued two months earlier by the Public Art and Monuments Advisory Committee, which had created a guiding set of principles for evaluating existing and future public art and monuments in the city.

Mayor Greg Fischer announced plans to move the Castleman monument, as well as one of George Dennison Prentice, in August 2018, after reviewing a report issued two months earlier by the Public Art and Monuments Advisory Committee, which had created a guiding set of principles for evaluating existing and future public art and monuments in the city.

The committee held seven public meetings in 2018, gathering hundreds of comments from residents throughout the city before submitting its report to the Mayor. The Mayor said at the time that, “We all agree with the report’s finding that our city must not maintain statues that serve as validating symbols for racist or bigoted ideology – that’s why we relocated the Confederate statue near the University of Louisville” in 2016.

And, “While Castleman was honored for contributions to the community, it cannot be ignored that he also fought to continue the horrific and brutal slavery of men, women and children; heralded that part of his life in his autobiography; and had his coffin draped with both a U.S. and Confederate flag,” he said. “And while Prentice was founder and long-time editor of the Louisville Journal newspaper, he used that platform to advocate an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant message that led to the 1855 Bloody Monday riot where 22 people were killed.”

The Prentice statue was moved into storage in December 2018. The Castleman move required a Certificate of Appropriateness because it is located in the Cherokee Triangle Preservation District. The Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee denied the certificate in January 2019. The city appealed that decision to the Landmarks Commission, which approved the move in May 2019.  The Friends of Louisville Public Art appealed that decision to Jefferson Circuit Court, which denied that appeal, making way for today’s move.

In announcing his decision to move the Prentice and Castleman statues in 2018, the Mayor rejected the idea that moving them was an effort to erase history. “Moving these statues,” he said, “allows us to examine our history in a new context that more accurately reflects the reality of the day, a time when the moral deprivation of slavery is clear.”

Today, the Mayor said moving the Castleman statue from its public space sends an important message. “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. 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.”

No decision has been made about how the Cherokee Triangle site will be used after the statue is moved. Sarah Lindgren, Metro’s Public Art Administrator, said any new proposal for artwork or monuments on public property would be reviewed through the city’s public art guidelines.

Information about the city’s review process for artworks in public places, including the Commission on Public Art guidelines and documentation of  the Public Art and Monuments Advisory Committee, can be found at https://louisvilleky.gov/government/public-art..

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Background on Castleman move

Read Mayor Fischer’s op-ed from May 8, 2019 here.
Statement from May 9, 2019: “I am pleased with the Landmarks Commission decision today. 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. We cannot and should not erase our history, but it is important that art and monuments displayed on public property reflect our values today as a welcoming city. We have an agreement in principle to move the Castleman statue to a more appropriate location within Cave Hill Cemetery where John B. Castleman is buried. Details will be finalized once the legal process is complete.”