The Commission on Public Art listened to two dozen speakers at their meeting on Monday, receiving a wide range of suggestions for where the Confederate monument on the University of Louisville’s campus should be relocated — from cemeteries, to Civil War battlegrounds, to the bottom of the Ohio River.
The university and Mayor Greg Fischer announced in April that the 70-foot-tall and 121-year-old memorial for Confederate soldiers would be moved to a more appropriate location. Following a lawsuit and injunction filed by those opposed to the removal, Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman ruled in June that the monument could be moved.
With the removal of the monument now certain, Monday’s meeting of the Commission of Public Art allowed the public and its commissioners to have input on where its new home should be, with those recommendations sent to the mayor’s office. Commission chairwoman Anna Tatman said none of the proposed sites have been vetted by city officials yet.
State Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, offered his idea of a relocation to Perryville in central Kentucky, the site of the largest Civil War battle in state, with 7,621 casualties. Meade County’s judge-executive and head of tourism traveled to Louisville for the meeting, offering space along their riverfront in Brandenburg — just southwest of Jefferson County — for the monument. Monica DeCarlo of the nonprofit Mill Springs Battlefield Association also offered their site at the southern Kentucky location where the Union won a significant battle.
An official with the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered space owned by the group in Paducah, and the representative of a foundation in Virginia offered their land as well, though a number of other speakers said the monument should remain in Louisville, with Cave Hill Cemetery being the most common suggestion for an appropriate new home.
Historian and author Emily Bingham told the commission the monument should not be re-erected in its full form anywhere in Louisville due to “the deep feelings of hurt and insult” it imposes on members of our community. Instead, she suggested the statues on it be preserved and placed in a local museum, along with “an interpretation about the history of how this came about, the people who were involved in it, the actions to it over time, and that way it can continue to be part of our discussions as we understand who we are, where we came from and where we’re going.”
Other speakers also favored disassembling the monument, but did not have preservation in mind, calling it a shameful celebration of the institution of slavery and the South’s attempt to maintain it in the Civil War.
Delvan Ramey of Louisville said the monument should be “obliterated,” offering to help take a sledgehammer to it and melt down the statues.
Dwayne Bell of Louisville told the commission that as an African-American and a veteran — “I guess I played soldier, too,” alluding the Civil War reinactors — he opposes Confederate symbols and suggested a new home for the monument at the bottom of the Ohio River.
“I’ve got a good place (for the monument) … maybe we could possibly find a really deep spot in the river,” said Bell. “If you need help dropping it in the river, I’m more than willing.”
Other speakers from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Save Our Heritage took the opposite approach, condemning Fischer for his effort to remove the monument and criticizing the “political correctness” of those who supported that effort.
While most with that point of view conceded the city could legally move the monument and offered input on an appropriate new location, Brennan Callan — a key player in the unsuccessful lawsuit and injunction — told the commission there is still hope for an appeal, and if the monument is moved, the court and Fischer are guilty of “fraud.”
The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office spokesman later issued a statement on Callan’s comments, noting that Callen is “a felon ironically enough convicted” of sinking the historic Belle of Louisville and was chastised in Judge McDonald-Burkman’s ruling for making “reckless and unprofessional claims” without merit — adding that “Callan’s thoughts on this matter do not even warrant discussion.”
After the public comment period ended, several members of the Commission on Public Arts gave their own opinions about what should be done with the monument, which were far from unanimous.
Commissioners Theo Edmonds and Cathy Shannon expressed support for an approach similar to what Bingham has suggested, saying the monument should not be resurrected anywhere, with the statues put in a museum along with the context of a historical interpretation.
Shannon said UofL’s decision to help remove the monument made her proud of her former school, remembering her time as a student “having to walk past a reminder of the terrorism that was inflicted upon generations.”
“I can fully appreciate that fact that so many lives were lost from 1861 to 1865, but it just so thoroughly discounts the lives that were lost over hundreds of years,” said Shannon. “Although I can’t really condone one of the recommendations to drop it in the river – though it was a good one – it is art, and as an art dealer, I do support maintaining elements of that statue.”
Commissioner Shannon Westerman advocated maintaining the structural integrity of the monument wherever it is relocated, which should be viewed by the public as a remembrance to the soldiers who died, “but at the same time, it’s 70 feet tall, and I can’t imagine aesthetically how it would look in Cave Hill Cemetery.”
Miranda Lash, the curator of the Speed Art Museum, said the new location must “maintain the integrity of the object, whether as one body, or in components. Because I feel that the object does have a vital role in reminding us of the role that history played, and I’m a big proponent of ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.'”
Commissioner Bob Marino stated the monument in its current location has lost its context, which could be restored by moving it to a Confederate cemetery or a site that is balanced with a Union presence — suggesting for the latter the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, along his post-war message of “with malice towards none, and charity towards all.”
Marino also rejected the idea of placing the statues from the monument in a museum with a historical interpretation, saying “I just don’t trust any contemporary view on history. I think we have to get over ourselves and listen to the people who witnessed history.”
The comments from Monday’s meeting will now be forwarded to the mayor’s office, as they vet possible locations for the monument. Matt Golden from the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said the UofL Foundation would pay the full cost of disassembling, transporting and reassembling the monument, wherever that location may be.