Confederate statues removed from Memphis

Workers removed a statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Memphis park after city leaders found a way to circumvent state barriers erected by GOP lawmakers who defended Confederate monuments.

A Tennessee city council voted to sell two city parks where two Confederate monuments were located so that crews could remove the statues.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said city council unanimously approved the sale of the parks to a private entity so that work underway there complies with state law.

The City Council unanimously approved the sale of Health Science Park, home of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Fourth Bluff Park, home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, for $1,000 each to Memphis Greenspace Inc.

Forrest was a slave trader, Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader who became influential in the city’s growth after the Civil War.

“The Forrest statue was placed in 1904, as Jim Crow segregation laws were enacted,” Strickland said. “The Davis statue was  placed in 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement changed our country. The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum.”

“As I told the Tennessee Historical Commission in October, our community wants to reserve places of reverence for those we honor,” said Strickland. “Though the spotlight has been bright on this for a few months now, it’s worth remembering that this is another step of a years-long journey of which many Memphians have been a part.”

The Tennessee Historical Commission in October denied the city’s request for a waiver from the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act — the law that governs statue removal by cities in that state.

City Council passed legislation in early September to enable the sale of park land to Memphis Greenspace, Inc., a non-profit corporation led by Van D. Turner Jr., a Shelby County commissioner.

Strickland explained that the law allows a city to sell land to a private entity and it allows a private entity to remove items such as statues from its own land.

The vote Wednesday followed months of frustration for city officials fighting against the state’s reams of red tape that kept the statues in place despite a wave of public opposition.

Last year, Tennessee lawmakers approved a bill making it more difficult to remove statues or monuments named after controversial figures, in an attempt to push back against efforts throughout the nation to remove remnants of the Confederacy. 

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a number of proclamations designating July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” in honor of the Confederate general and founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

After the council vote, Memphis police quickly deployed from the riverfront area near the Interstate 40 welcome center in Downtown and cordoned off the parks with yellow crime scene tape. Crowds gathered at both locations as word spread via social media.

Workers placed a ladder up to the base of the statue and could be seen moving around it, apparently attaching straps, shortly after 6 p.m., within an hour after the council vote. Two big cherry-pickers were in use on both sides of the statue.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, released this statement, referencing the graves of Forrest and his wife currently resting under the statue:

“I commend Mayor Strickland and the City Council for finding a way to legally remove statues from an era that is not representative of Memphis today and have remained an affront to most of the citizens of Memphis,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s important that these relics of the Confederacy and defenders of slavery don’t continue to be displayed in prominent places in our city.”

“Hopefully, the Forrests will be returned to their rightful and preferred burial spot — Elmwood Cemetery,” said Cohen, referring to the graves of Forrest and his wife, currently resting under the statue:


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