Louisville’s Confederate Monument: Memorializing Change, and Loss

What’s behind a monument? In Louisville, it was the time capsule buried beneath it.

Americans do not always agree on the causes that send us to war. However, we’ve long acknowledged that those who serve and perish should be honored. This was the inspiration behind Louisville’s Confederate Monument, erected to memorialize fallen Confederate soldiers in 1895.

The monument was a community effort, funded through the sale of cookies, cakes and even autographs. Beneath it, city leaders buried a time capsule, containing the remnants of the period: the personal effects of war leaders, Jefferson Davis’ scarf and Robert E. Lee’s half-smoked cigar.

In the 20th century, particularly following the Civil Rights Movement, the monument attracted controversy as, for many, it had come to represent racial oppression and slavery. In 2002, the University of Louisville renamed the adjacent Confederate Hall to Unity Hall, and soon after renamed the area surrounding the monument Freedom Park, in honor of local civil rights leaders.

In 2016, the monument was dismantled and relocated to Brandenburg, KY. The time capsule was unearthed, and it revealed what more than a century of progress could not change. 

We consulted with PBS Newshour on the monument history in this segment they produced on the relocation