Supporters of the John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle gathered after a news conference announcing a lawsuit challenging its removal
Supporters of the John Breckinridge Castleman statue in Cherokee Triangle gathered after a news conference announcing a lawsuit challenging its removal. | Photo by Joe Sonka

A recently created group is filing a lawsuit on Monday to block the removal of the John B. Castleman statue from Cherokee Triangle, which was approved by a 4-3 vote of the Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission in May.

Steve Porter, the attorney for Friends of Louisville Public Art and other plaintiffs challenging the ruling to remove the statue, issued a news release Sunday night announcing his clients’ intent to appeal the “arbitrary and erroneous decision” of the commission in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Steve Wiser (left) of Friends of Louisville Public Art and attorney Steve Porter announcing the lawsuit to keep the Castleman statue on Monday
Steve Wiser (left) of Friends of Louisville Public Art and attorney Steve Porter announcing the lawsuit to keep the Castleman statue on Monday. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Noting the noon news conference on Monday at the site of the statue of Castleman atop his horse Carolina, Porter stated that “we will be there rain or shine just as Gen. Castleman and Carolina have been for 106 years as landmarks of the Cherokee Triangle.”

The Castleman statute picked up renewed controversy in 2017 when it was first vandalized with orange paint, as many view the statute of the man who served as a Confederate major in the Civil War as a symbol of racism. Mayor Greg Fischer subsequently called for a review of public art to document pieces that could be interpreted as honoring bigotry, racism and slavery.

The Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee initially voted earlier this year to keep the statue where it is with a 3-3 tie, but the Fischer administration appealed that decision to the Landmarks Commission.

Fischer praised the decision last month to remove the statue and place it at Cave Hill Cemetery, stating that “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… 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.”

At the news conference Monday, Porter — known for his legal battles in recent years to stop a Walmart on West Broadway and a Topgolf in Oxmoor Mall — said his clients’ lawsuit would challenge the technical process in which the commission approved the statue’s removal.

A Castleman statue supporter at the news conference holds a sign reading "Castleman stood up for racial justice"
A Castleman statue supporter at the news conference | Photo by Joe Sonka

Friends of Louisville Public Art organizer Steve Wiser — who has spoken at public hearings in support of keeping the statue where it is — said that the new group was formed two weeks ago and has “dozens, maybe hundreds” of members.

A GoFundMe page created to support the group 17 days ago shows it has already raised $1,125 from nine individuals — ranging from a “Hogan’s Fountain” donation for $50 to a “Lincoln” donation of over $1,000.

Wiser criticized those who called the statue a symbol of racism, saying that Castleman “was progressive in his day” and “did not participate in any overt racial activities whatsoever.” He also handed out a “fact sheet” claiming that “it is said (Castleman) was reluctant” to join the Confederacy during the Civil War, which did not include a citation.

Among the two-dozen supporters who attended the news conference, some held signs praising Castleman, including one that said the Confederate soldier “stood up for racial justice.”

Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for the Fischer administration, said in an emailed statement: “The Mayor is disappointed to see the process slowed by appeal, but is confident that the Landmarks Commission acted appropriately and made the right decision in supporting the decision to move the statue. The Mayor stands by that decision. Louisville must not maintain statues that serve as validating symbols for racist or bigoted ideology. As this process moves to the courts, we refer more specific questions to the Jefferson County Attorney.”

A representative of the Louisville Showing Up For Racial Justice — a social justice group that supports the removal of the statue — did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

This post has been updated to include a comment from the Mayor’s office.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]