This is one of the several articles about the John B. Castleman statue that appeared in the May 8 issue of LEO Weekly. To read the rest, go here.
James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Similarly, it is because I love Kentucky that I will do the same. Kentucky is a place where my father and mother are from, where my father lived, worked and died. It is where my daughter learned to tie her shoes, ride her bike and attended college. Kentucky is where my family and I call home. It is a place that, after 20 years, I am still learning to navigate as a black woman. As welcoming as Kentucky is, it is a state that still has the lingering legacy of slavery. While often considered a neutral state in the Civil War, Kentucky cannot deny its role in the enslavement of black men, women and children. In the 1850s, 23% of white males in Kentucky owned slaves, and Kentucky protected the right to own slaves. Due to its proximity to the Ohio River, Kentucky played an integral role in the slave trade, often selling black people “down the river” to states where they would endure unimaginable hardship. Slavery was integral to the economy of Kentucky and the lives of countless black people were lost or forever impacted.
It is time for Kentucky to face its ugly truth.
In 2019, Kentucky no longer has the option or luxury of claiming neutrality when, in fact, history shows that Kentucky was intricately involved in enslaving black people. While many people would like to pretend that this is not the history of Kentucky, the evidence is all around us with Confederate statues peppered throughout the city of Louisville.
I can recall several years ago when the debate about removing the Confederate monument on Third Street on UofL’s Belknap Campus was being debated, Louisville residents were asked to go online to complete a form about why the statues should be removed? As I completed the form, I began to get very emotional. Here I was in my 30s, a grown woman, trying to find just the right words to place on a form so that someone on the other end of this form could understand my position. I wanted to ask them if we had statues up of soldiers that supported Hitler, would we even be having this discussion?
I want to think not.
However, for some reason when it comes to black people and the crimes against humanity that were committed against us, it becomes something that is up for debate. How long am I going to have to debate my humanity as a black person in Louisville? How many times am I going to be asked to go online and complete a form about why Confederate statues are offensive? How many times am I going to beat the same drum and sing the same song before anyone hears me?
To go online and complete that form as a black woman was embarrassing, shameful and degrading. For this city to pretend as if it doesn’t understand why Confederate statues are offensive is an insult, not just to my intelligence but to the intelligence of every black person in this city. The Castleman statue honors former Confederate soldier John B. Castleman. As a Confederate soldier, Castleman worked to recruit residents of Kentucky to serve in the Civil War. As he rose in the ranks, there is no denying what side Castleman stood on when it came to slavery.
There is no Confederate lite, Louisville.
Either you were for emancipating enslaved black people, or you were not. John Castleman made his choice, and his decision was the Confederacy. And now, years later, his shadow lingers over the Cherokee Triangle reminding anyone who ventures in that area where Louisville stands.
Perhaps when the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee voted, it did not understand what its vote said to me as a black woman. What its vote says to me is, “We do not care how this statue makes black people feel.” What is says to me is, “We are not trying to understand your position.” The vote says, “The discomfort and sadness you feel about this statue means nothing as long as we can keep it here in the name of history.” What the vote says to me is, “We stand for the very things that Castleman stood for.” Quite frankly, I would prefer the members just come out and say that and stop hiding behind history and preservation. Be honest with yourself and the residents of Louisville. This debate stopped being about history a long time ago. And truthfully it never was about history. It’s about maintaining a monument as a reminder to black people of where many people in this city still stand. •
Hannah L. Drake is an author, poet and spoken word artist. Follow her at writesomeshit.com and on Twitter at hannahdrake628.