Ahead of Wednesday’s Commission on Public Art meeting to discuss pieces such as monuments to Confederate soldiers, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released the nearly 850 public comments submitted on the issue over the past three weeks, spurred by the debate over what to do with the statue honoring John Breckinridge Castleman in Cherokee Triangle.
Fischer also released a lengthy statement about the next steps the city would take in the coming months, as well as his reaction to the comments submitted by the public, noting that he was struck that many demonstrated a lack of knowledge about slavery and how it continued to impact society.
Wednesday’s special meeting of the Commission of Public Art will be from 4-7 p.m. in the Old Jail Auditorium at 514 West Liberty to “discuss pieces in its inventory that can be interpreted as honoring discrimination, racism, bigotry or slavery.” Commission chair, Anna Tatman, and administrator, Sarah Lindgren, will open the meeting with a 30-minute introduction and staff report on the issue, followed by 90 minutes of public comment and 45 minutes of deliberation by the members of the commission.
The public comments released Wednesday afternoon includes over 700 submitted through an online form established by the Fischer administration on Aug. 15, the day after the Castleman statue was found to be vandalized and two days after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., when white nationalists and neo-Nazis rallied against the removal of a statue of confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The city also released a number of public comments submitted through letters and emails.
When he established the online form, Fischer said that “for many, the Castleman statue is a beloved neighborhood landmark, but for others, it’s a symbol of a painful, tragic and divisive time in our history — which gets at the complexity of this conversation.”
In Fischer’s statement accompanying the release of the public comments, he noted that Wednesday’s meeting “is the first in a series of events that the city will lead over the next few months in a community dialogue about inclusion, racial equity, and the impact of racism and slavery on our city and our country,” with those events being announced “in the near future.”
Responding to the hundreds of comments submitted, Fischer stated that he was struck that many demonstrated “a desire to learn more about the issues behind the displays of racism and mayhem in Virginia,” though others demonstrated “the large absence of baseline knowledge around the institution of slavery, its moral issues, its economic underpinnings, and how it impacts our city and country to this day.”
“For us not to use this moment in our country’s history to advance our democracy would be an abdication of responsibility and a significant lost opportunity to build our collective capacity to grow a more dynamic, equitable, and inclusive future,” stated Fischer. “We can only be a city where all citizens can reach their full human potential if we face our big challenges head-on, and this includes the challenges of race and equity. I believe Louisville has developed enough social muscle to have a deep, productive, and sometimes uncomfortable community conversation about these challenges.”
The hundreds of comments released Wednesday afternoon show a city split on the issue of whether of not to remove the Castleman statue, with some arguing that it unjustly honors a man who committed treason to fight for the Confederacy and uphold the evil institution of slavery, while others decried this as an effort to erase history by an assortments of liberals or Black Lives Matter activists.
Below is a word cloud of the most commonly-used words of those submitting a comment through the online form, created by the Civic Data Alliance: