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Louisville Removes Controversial Statue Of John Breckinridge Castleman

Work crews in Louisville, Ky., took down a statue of former Confederate officer John Breckinridge Castleman early Monday morning. The monument had been a magnet for protests during demonstrations against police killings of black people.

"We have much more to do to dismantle the structures that got us here," Mayor Greg Fischer said, calling the removal "one step" in that process.

The statue of Castleman on horseback was taken off its pedestal in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood shortly after 6 a.m. ET. The city says the figure will be taken to a storage facility for cleaning, with the intention of moving it to Castleman's burial site at Cave Hill Cemetery.

Louisville Metro Council member Brandon Coan tweeted an image of the now-empty spot in a traffic circle where the figure stood; nearby, the statue sat under a shroud. There is not yet a plan for how to use the space.

The city had planned to take down the statue nearly two years ago, but that effort was appealed in court. On Friday, a Jefferson Circuit Court judge ruled that Louisville has the right to remove the tribute to Castleman.

In a statement about Monday's removal, the mayor said:

"Too many people are suffering today because the promises of justice and equality enshrined in our Constitution are unfulfilled by a society that devalues African-American lives and denies African Americans justice, opportunity and equity. That's got to change. People want and deserve action. We need a transformation."

"Castleman served in both the U.S. and Confederate armies," member station WFPL reports, adding "the statue portrays him in civilian clothes, but the historical markers nearby mention both his Confederate service and his role in establishing Louisville's parks system."

After the Civil War, Castleman went on to become a brigadier general in the U.S. Army. He participated in both the Spanish-American War and the invasion of Puerto Rico. In Louisville, his legacy includes the city's park system – but as the Courier Journal has noted, he also ordered park facilities such as tennis courts to be segregated.

"These people are citizens," Castleman told the newspaper in 1916. "The same right that induces our liberal provision for their separate education should impel us to provide for them separate recreation grounds."

Castleman died in 1918. Since at least the 1990s, his statue has been vandalized and doused with paint numerous times, as WFPL has reported.

On Friday, protesters in Louisville and elsewhere marked what would have been Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday.

Taylor, who was an emergency medical technician in Louisville, was killed by police in her apartment in March, when the officers served a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night. Her death, along with those of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, has fueled outrage and protests over police treatment of black people — especially the use of deadly force.

Louisville is among a number of U.S. cities that are removing or evaluating their monuments and memorials, seeking a new balance between observing history while also retiring symbols of racism and oppression. Last week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said a huge statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond will be taken down "as soon as possible."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.