Historic Landmarks Commission approves city appeal, Castleman statue to be moved

The John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle the morning after it was vandalized with paint in 2017 | Photo by Joe Sonka

The John B. Castleman statue is heading to a new home.

An appeal filed by the city to overturn a decision by the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee to leave the statue in its original spot was approved by a 4-3 vote Thursday by the Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission in a two-plus-hour special meeting.

The meeting included a 20-minute presentation by a city representative, Sarah Lindgren, and pleas from dozens of attendees either in favor of or opposed to approving the appeal. Opinions were roughly divided in half, with many asserting the statue of Castleman, a Confederate soldier, is a symbol of racism.

Many of the 60 or 70 in attendance held yellow signs reading “Take it Down” and “Not a Proud Heritage” that were provided by Louisville Showing Up for Racal Justice.

Those opposing the appeal spoke about Castleman’s contributions to the city and its parks, with many citing that he was opposed to slavery but rather was in favor of state’s rights to govern. After testimony after testimony, commission chair Chris Hartman asked for a motion. The commissioners were momentarily silent.

“Do I have a motion from anyone?” Hartman finally said. “I bet some folks in the audience would offer one.”

Many attendees held signs reading “Take it Down” and “Not a Proud Heritage.” | Photo by Kevin Gibson

After brief laughter, Hartman made a motion to approve the appeal, with the condition that if another statue is every placed on the circle where the  Castleman statue has stood for more than 100 years, it must be approved by the Cherokee Triangle ARC. Commissioner Emily Lieu then seconded the motion.

Commissioner Jay Stottman then spoke up and began asking his fellow commissioners about being cautious about what exactly they were trying to approve and what ramifications it could have down the road. He expressed concern about processes being kept in order.

Hartman and Liu both exchanged dialogue with Stottman, reminding him, with Liu at one point saying, “Today, in front of us, is one case that we need to discuss.”

It was brought up that Stottman is a descendant of Castleman – Liu insisted at one point he should recuse himself from the vote – although he said he was neither in favor of nor opposed to moving the statue, he did persist in wanting to discuss processes. At one point, after Stottman continued questioning the process, a visibly annoyed Hartman said, “Must we spend more time on this?”

The vote then was taken, with Stottman and the commissioners Carrye Jones and Joanne Weeter voting to reject the appeal and leave the statue in Cherokee Triangle. Lindgren said there is an agreement in principle with Cave Hill Cemetery to move the statue there, where the cemetery will maintain it.

Immediately following the decision, Mayor Greg Fischer issued this statement, saying he was pleased with the decision. “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,” Fischer said.

“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,” he stated.

One attendee, Steve Wiser, spoke against granting the appeal, saying there are many monuments in Louisville with ties to slavery and racism, saying moving the statue “will not end this controversy.”

One person supporting the appeal, DeNita Wright, suggested removing the statue should be part of a process toward shifting the community toward equality, saying the statue “only reinforces a wound we all should be trying to heal.”

Many who spoke thanked the commission and the metro government for offering the chance to share opinions. At one point, Catherine Bowyer, who opposed the appeal, told the commission, “I know you’re all on the hot seat,” to which Hartman mouthed a silent “thank you.”

Part of Lindgren’s opening statement included a snippet from the transcript of the Cherokee Triangle ARC meeting, which ended in a 3-3 vote, thus rendering the attempt to move the statue as denied. This, of course, led to the appeal. The snippet quoted one unnamed ARC board member as saying: “Maybe the full Landmarks Commission can sort it out. How is that for passing the buck?”

An ARC member, Michael Gross, who replied at the meeting, “Maybe they are wiser than us,” was the final attendee to speak at Thursday morning’s meeting. When the motion to approve moving the statue failed, an alternative motion was not made, so the motion died, he said.

“We weren’t looking to get out of making a decision, we just could not reach one,” Gross told the commission.

The statue of Castleman has been the subject of controversy since August 2017, having been called a symbol of racism by many. The statue has been vandalized numerous times, with protestors splattering it with red paint. The suggestion for when it moves to its new location is to replace it with landscaping similar to what now surrounds the statue and base.

The meeting adjourned shortly after the vote with no discussion of when the statue might be moved.