Court refuses to block removal of Confederate monument

Published: May. 25, 2016 at 10:28 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2016 at 12:17 AM EDT
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The monument will be moved to Brandenburg's River Front Park history trail. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
The monument will be moved to Brandenburg's River Front Park history trail. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Others believe the statue is a reminder of slavery. (Source: James Thomas/WAVE 3 News)
Others believe the statue is a reminder of slavery. (Source: James Thomas/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - History buffs may never settle whether the Civil War was fought over slavery, 'state's rights', taxes, property rights exclusive of slavery, or a combination of some or all of the above.

But Jefferson County Circuit Judge Judith McDonald Burkman decided the future of a 121-year-old monument to Confederate veterans depends on who owns the land.

"All I have is a document transferring ownership of right-of-way from the city to the state," Burkman said at the conclusion of a hearing Wednesday afternoon. "You don't have any rights that are being violated. You don't own the land, the city does."

Burkman's ruling denied motions from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) seeking to block the University of Louisville and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer from removing the monument.

Fischer, and UofL Pan-African Studies Professor Ricky Jones have called it a reminder of slavery's past.

"My great-great grandfather and great uncle helped raise the money for the statues around Kentucky," SCV historian Fred Wilhite testified. "I feel like I have a vested interest in this monument."

"There are 150 places around Louisville that recognize Civil War ties," said Everett Corley, a fifth-generation Louisville resident and UofL graduate. "Would you rename Dixie Highway? Why can't we leave well-enough alone and stop meddling?"

Corley was among the petitioners whom Burkman had gr anted a temporary restraining order the week of the Kentucky Derby, blocking the monument's removal. He was also a Republican candidate for Kentucky's 3rd District U.S. House seat, losing in the May 17 primary.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell alluded to political motivations in his cross-examination of Corley, but pulled no punches in his closing remarks.

"They fooled you, they misled you, (in citing reasons for the order)," O'Connell told Judge Burkman, "It was all lies."

O'Connell conceded the SCV's claims that the monument site and much of the UofL Belknap campus are on the National Register of Historic Places.

"But it's irrelevant to this case," he told Burkman. "No federal money is involved. The University of Louisville Foundation is going to underwrite the entire cost of dismantling and relocating (the monument)."

But several witnesses, including engineers and contractors, testified that planners have yet to determine how much removal will cost, or where the monument would go, or even what the monument weighs.

"They want to put it in the city dump," attorney Thomas McAdam said. "If you think I'm making this up, go over to the Edith Avenue landfill, and look at all the historic facades."

Self-proclaimed historian Brennan Callan testified that he had petitioned Kentucky's Military Heritage Commission Tuesday to declare the monument and site historic.

O'Connell presented documentation and testimony indicating neither is listed as a state historic site, nor does the land fall within the Old Louisville Preservation Zone.

"We could go ahead and have a continuance of this injunction," Callan told Judge Burkman. "There's no hurry, it's been there for 121 years! Let's take our time."

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That would have delayed a decision until November 17, the earliest the Commission could hold a hearing.

But absent a deed of ownership, Burkman said, her only documentation is the right-of-way transfer.

"Unless something's out there that proves otherwise," she said. "But something tells me your search has been pretty thorough," she told O'Connell.

McAdam vowed the search would continue.

Professor Jones declared it nothing short of victory,

"What happens to it now doesn't matter," Dr. Jones said. "We're not trying to destroy it. There are a lot of important battles to be fought, but this one is very important to the University of Louisville, faculty, staff and students, having a more humane place to work and play."

"I am pleased with the judge's ruling," Mayor Fischer was quoted in a written statement. "We will await the judge's final written ruling before taking the next steps. In the meantime, my team will be working with the Commission on Public Art and the University of Louisville to evaluate disassembling, restoring and relocating the monument."

O'Connell expects a formal ruling in seven to 10 days.

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