Group plans to re-erect Memphis confederate statues

Updated: Dec. 19, 2019 at 4:52 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The battle over Memphis’ confederate statues is officially over. The monuments are now in the possession of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“Oh, yes,” said SCV’s Lee Millar. “We’re really happy with the terms of the agreement.”

SCV has custody of the Jefferson Davis statue and the James Mathis bust removed from Fourth Bluff Park on Front Street, and the General Nathan Bedford Forrest monument, taken down at Health Sciences Park. All three were removed two years ago this month.

“The statues will be re-erected,” Millar told WMC Action News 5, “but we’ve not finalized plans or a location for those yet. But they will be available to the public for all to see.”

Memphis Greenspace, the non-profit that bought the parks from the City of Memphis, the strategy that allowed the statues to be taken down, reached a settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans after months of legal wrangling. Greenspace transferred ownership of the statues to SCV Thursday, Dec. 12.

“I think that’s a win for us,” said Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner. “And you know, it’s probably a win for them. Quite honestly, it’s not really our business anymore what happens to the statues. But we do know they cannot bring the monuments back across the county lines or the city lines.”

As for the bodies of General Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann, they remain entombed in a concrete vault in Health Sciences Park. They were moved there from Elmwood Cemetery in 1905. The giant bronze likeness of Forrest, took three years to make at a cost of $676,000 in today’s money. When the statue was unveiled before a huge crowd in what was then called Forrest Park, the Commercial Appeal headline read “Veil is Drawn...Lifelike Image Sends a Thrill Through the Hearts of Veterans and Thousands of Voices Join in Cheers.”

Fast forward to December 2017, when the cheering was from a crowd watching a massive crane remove the General Forrest statue from its pedestal. The Memphis City Council had already renamed the park to Health Sciences, all images and reminders of the Bluff City's dark past of slavery and racism slowly being erased.

So what happens to the Forrests' remains now?

“That will be up to the Forrest family,” said Millar. “What we decide about that, whether we’re going to move them someplace else or not, that’s not been finalized yet.”

Van Turner says the cost to remove, store and hand over the statues to the Sons of Confederate Veterans was covered by private donations, no public tax dollars were used in the effort. He says Memphis Greenspace is working with MMDC (the Memphis Medical District Collaborative) and the MRPP (Memphis River Parks Partnership) to make the two parks more attractive to Memphians. Getting rid of the statues, he says, allows the city to moved forward.

“They’re putting more benches in,” he said of Health Sciences Park pavilion. “And more eating areas. I think you’re really going to see a whole refreshed look.”

Metal fencing still surrounds the tomb containing General Forrest and his wife, protecting it from vandals. Someone placed a few plastic flowers and LED candles at their grave site. But the statue The CA once declared was “Ever on Guard in the Park” is now gone... from the park and from Memphis. The Sons of Confederate Veterans battle to have them put back up in the Bluff City may be lost. But Millar says General Forrest and the other statues will rise again.

“So that historians,” he said. “And civil war buffs and the public can enjoy them and enjoy this American history.”

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