Managing Editor's Note: Tear down those statues — Louisville’s and Charlottesville’s monumental problems

Aug 13, 2017 at 8:22 pm
Andy Beshear

An American patriot was killed Saturday by a neo-Nazi who had traveled to Charlottesville to protect the statue of a white supremacist who tried to divide this nation more than 150 years ago.

Charlottesville’s plans to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fueled the violence there that led to Heather Heyer’s death — the “American carnage” that President Trump had to have envisioned when he began encouraging the alt-Reich and its racist brethren.

More than a century later, we are still fighting the Civil War, perhaps now opening a second chapter.

And we in Louisville and Kentucky should not be so smug.

Just like the rest of the country, we have a monumental problem with our past.

I do not mean necessarily our legacy of poor healthcare, our historic love affair with tobacco... or our blind, masochistic loyalty to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Well, actually I do mean “Murder” McConnell, because he shoulders a large portion of blame for Trump.

More broadly, I mean that we have a problem with how we handle these odious statues, monuments, memorials and other paeans to our bloody, wretched past. How can it possibly have taken so long — more than a century — for us to realize that any glorification of those who fought against the Union cannot stand?

These statues are rallying points for racists and, worse, stinging rebukes for African-Americans.

They all need to be removed — ground into dust, or placed in museums or cemeteries where they can be seen by only those who want to see them and understood for their historical context.

They cannot be allowed to remain merely as decorations and landscaping.

We applaud Mayor Greg Fischer for acting swiftly, calling Sunday for a review of all Louisville public art that “can be interpreted as honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery.” We hope this proclamation is more than politicking.

Just last year, Fischer led the relocation of the 121-year-old Confederate war memorial from UofL to Brandenburg, Kentucky, but only after we had to engage in some ridiculous debate about its historical value and blah, blah, blah. We would like to think the decision was made for the right reason, although the sombrero-wearing, former UofL president, James Ramsey, had a role in pushing the removal, even as he struggled to stay in his multimillion-dollar sinecure. Either way, it was done, and UofL professor and provocateur Ricky L. Jones and Fischer are to thank for that.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also showed leadership by announcing Saturday that he will push to take down statues of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan that are now on the lawn of the former Fayette County Courthouse.

Meanwhile, however, the Kentucky State Capitol still houses a statue of Jefferson Davis, who, in case you forgot, was a native Kentuckian, president of the Confederate States and the owner of dozens of slaves.

No one seems to have the balls or good sense to remove this embodiment of treason.

In 2015, state Historic Properties Advisory Commission — with no black members — voted 7-2 to keep the statue and create a committee to figure out how to offer more historical context for it and other statues in the Capitol.

Listening, Gov. Matt Bevin?

But not so fast, Louisville...

What about the statue of John Breckinridge Castleman on Cherokee Circle in The Highlands? It was erected to honor his civic leadership, including his role in establishing Cherokee Park. But here is what his 1918 New York Times obituary says, in part: “General Castleman gained a place in history in the war between the States and as a commander of an expedition, the purpose of which was to liberate Confederate prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, who were to seize and burn the City of Chicago.” The plan failed, and he was arrested and ejected from the country, only to be pardoned by President Johnson and allowed to return to Louisville.

This weekend, the Castleman statue was splashed with reddish paint.

We cannot condone vandalism, but we want this attack and Charlottesville to provoke discussion about the Castleman statue’s future. We want sincere, urgent and open talk as a city, state and nation about how we treat all of these vestiges of the past.

Just as we cannot allow neo-Nazis, the alt-Reich and other spreaders of racism to go unchallenged, we cannot allow their symbols to remain as so much normalized scenery on our streets and in our courtyards.

Mayor Fischer, Gov. Bevin — tear down those statues.