Activists: 'If you don't take those statues down then we will'
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Hundreds of people attended a rally for the removal of Confederate statues in Memphis on Tuesday evening.
The meeting was held at Bruce Elementary School on Bellevue Boulevard. Organizers used the hashtag #TakeEmDown901 to represent the event.
Some at the event said they have a family history that is tied to the Confederacy, but they want the statues removed.
"My great, great, grandfather fought as a Confederate captain," Bill Black said. "He died to keep people enslaved."
But, he said that's not a history to be proud of and the statues carry on ideals of racism.
"I see these statues as part of their system that keeps that mythology going, helped poison my mind as a younger man," Black said.
"There's a lot that we hope to explore together, tonight and moving forward," organizer Tami Sawyer said. "These statues were built as tools of oppression during the Civil Rights movement and reconstruction."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have already condemned the idea, saying that Memphis "does not need to become the laughing stock of the country again as has the city of New Orleans." The group released a statement, which includes:
"Those who tear down historic monuments are no better than Nazis or ISIS. They are historical terrorists. The TearDownMemphis or TakeEmDown group bears the same characteristics.
Our historical monuments, especially including the two largest Confederate monuments, are a tribute to those honored city residents of our nation’s past. They certainly do not signify white supremacy or anything of the sort. Both Jefferson Davis and N. B. Forrest are veterans of the United States military and of the Confederate States.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans vehemently opposes the removal or destruction of any memorial, monument or grave site and will stand against any such actions, including to the extent of taking legal action."
Sawyer said the idea is to make Memphis more attractive to millennials.
"If this is a Memphis where we want millennials to come and feel supported and continue to build up our city, these statues can't be allowed to stand," Sawyer said.
But, not everyone agrees with removing the statues.
"We should be adding to history, not destroying history," Son of the Confederate Veterans Lee Millar said.
Miller said taking the statues down is an insult to those citizens that came before us.
"You are not entitled to be aggrieved by history or to be upset or be offended. History is history," Miller said.
Community support is growing for the removal of the statues. Close to 1,300 signatures on a Change.org petition have already been gained and Congressman Steve Cohen wrote a letter of support for the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue.
"If you don't take those statues down then we will," one activist said.
Sawyer has organized a boycott of Fourth Bluff Park until the statue of Jefferson Davis is removed. The group also wants the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from the Health Sciences Park (formerly called Nathan Bedford Forest Park).
The Nathan Bedford Forest statue was vandalized in 2015 with the words "Black Lives Matter" spray painted at the base.
For any statue to be removed, there must first be approval from Tennessee Historical Commission.
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