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Activists Push For Removal Of Louisville's Castleman Statue, Citing Confederate Past

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

The statue of John Breckinridge Castleman will remain, at least for now.

A group of residents held a small rally Monday evening at the base of the statue that sits in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood.

They called on Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to order the statue be removed. The group said Castleman - who served as a Confederate officer during the Civil War - doesn't deserve such an honor.

Their pleas, however, aren't likely to spur any immediate action, said Sarah Lindgren, head of the city's public art commission.

Fischer has ordered the commission to reviewall pieces of public art to determine whether any of them could be interpreted to be “honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery.”

Lindgren said the process for that review is yet to be finalized. She said a criteria will be developed to examine all pieces of art under the same lens. In addition, she said a series of public meetings will be held to get more feedback from residents.

"Castleman is a complex figure, as all the historical figures are," she said.

Further, she said an immediate removal of the statue - which stands some 15 feet - would be a big task and require a crane and large crew of workers.

Still, the residents who attended the rally were unmoving in their demands: they want Castleman out of the public eye.

"What he did and who he is is a symbol of the Confederacy which equals the evils of slavery, racism, white supremacy in the south and in our country," said Carol Kramer, who helped organize Monday's rally with Louisville Standing Up for Racial Justice.

The group gathered shortly after 6 p.m. at the base of the statue and attendees took turns speaking in the microphone and singing songs and chanting. The peaceful event was attended by some 100 people. Police shut down nearby streets.

The Castleman statue was vandalized over the weekend as violent protests erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, white supremacists clashed with anti-racists protesters over calls to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray called for the removal of that city’s Confederate statues over the weekend.

Residents who attended Monday's rally applauded Gray's directive and pushed Fischer to do the same - and start with the Castleman statue.

But some residents who live near the statue disagree, citing John Breckinridge Castleman's varied biography.

Castleman did serve in the Confederacy. He also served in the U.S. Army following the Civil War and on the city's Board of Park Commissioners for some two decades. He also assisted in the founding of the American Saddlebred Horse Association.

Bradd Buchanan said the statue is a monument to what Castleman accomplished in the second part of his life.

"There’s no place for hate within humanity and no humanity in hate, but that is not what this statue represents," he said.

Buchanan has lived in Cherokee Triangle since 1991 - he often passes the statue when he walks his dogs and regularly uses the statue as a wayfinding device when giving directions.

"It's a landmark," he said.

While rally goers seemed adamant in their call to remove the statue, they did offer one compromise: take away Castleman – but leave the horse.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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