Yesterday, Greg Fischer, the Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, announced plans to review the city’s catalogue of public art to highlight monuments that “can be interpreted to be honoring bigotry, racism and/or slavery.” His remarks arrived a day after white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis violently swarmed the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville to protest the city’s decision in February to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The hate-filled rallies ended with at least one death and dozens of injuries — and, for many, put on full display the reasons we need to tear down the countless Confederate monuments that still stand in the US today.
“I recognize that some people say all these monuments should be left alone, because they are part of our history,” Fischer said in a release. “But we need to discuss and interpret our history from multiple perspectives and from different viewpoints. That’s why a community conversation is crucial.”
The announcement also followed local news that an equestrian statue of Confederate officer John Breckinridge Castleman had been vandalized overnight with orange paint, along with its historical marker.
The forthcoming review is in preparation for a “community conversation” regarding the monuments’ display, and marks the start of what will no doubt be a lengthy and tense project. The Louisville Commission on Public Art has previously organized such conversations: last year, it held a public meeting to discuss possible relocation sites for a 70-foot-tall Confederate monument that had stood outside the University of Louisville since 1895. Following a legal battle, a judge had ruled that the memorial could be removed; it ended up in the nearby town of Bradenburg, which welcomed it with a rededication ceremony.
Louisville’s mayor isn’t the first to announce a commission to study public Confederate monuments within his jurisdiction (nor would he be the first to remove them; New Orleans dismantled its four statues this spring). In June 2015, Baltimore’s former mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake June announced the creation of a similar commission to review the four monuments in Baltimore City, which resulted in a 34-page report identifying key steps for their removal. The plans to relocate them stalled over time, but Mayor Catherine Pugh took steps today to move forward with the process after the clashes in Charlottesville. (Former NAACP President Ben Jealous also suggested today that the city’s monument to Roger Taney be replaced with one to Frederick Douglass.) This past June, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also created a commission to consider the Confederate-era statues on his city’s controversial Monument Avenue. The Monument Avenue Commission, however, believes that the statues should remain and that it exists to receive public input on how to better contextualize them. This morning, Stoney reiterated his position that the monuments should not be removed.
Alongside Fischer in Louisville, at least one other Kentucky mayor has taken a more definitive stance this weekend to fight bigotry: Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington announced that he will ask for permission to remove statues of Confederate general John Hunt Morgan and 14th Vice President John C. Breckinridge, a slaveowner, from the lawn of a former courthouse.
“The tragic events in Charlottesville today have accelerated the announcement I intended to make next week,” Gray tweeted on Saturday. “Tuesday I will ask Council to support Lexington’s petition to the Ky Military Heritage Commission, a required next step. Details to come.”