Confederate statues removed from Memphis parks

Confederate statues removed from Memphis parks
Published: Dec. 20, 2017 at 9:02 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 at 10:36 AM CST
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Crews remove the Jefferson Davis statue (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Crews remove the Jefferson Davis statue (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis' Confederate statues are no longer standing.

City council voted unanimously to immediately remove Confederate statues from both city parks at Wednesday's meeting.

By 11 p.m. Wednesday, both the Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest statues were out of sight.

The city sold Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park to nonprofit organization Memphis Greenspace, Inc. for $1,000 each.

Immediately after the parks were purchased, the statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis were removed.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said that the removal of the statues was all privately funded and completely legal.

For months, the city of Memphis has looked into multiple ways to remove the statues. City leaders explored all legal options and even took their case to the state of Tennessee.

Wednesday night, they decided to use a so-called "legal loophole" that allowed them to remove the statues right away.

City councilman Berlin Boyd has long supported the removal of the statues.

"As we are aware, everyone is passionate. No matter what side of history you may be on, we want to create an environment that is inclusive and available for all Memphians," Boyd said.

At 9:01 p.m., the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue was lifted off of its pedestal.

Lee Millar from Sons of Confederate Veterans was on WMC Action News 5 to talk about the statues being removed.

Millar said his group believes the city is breaking the law by removing the statues.

"I think it's a disgusting display by the city council and by the mayor to destroy some of Memphis' history, especially this sham of a sale. We're not through fighting," Millar said.

Millar said he was not at liberty to say what the next move the Sons of Confederate Veterans will take, but said there will be imminent action.

"The city cannot sell land without a hearing, bidding it out and permitting other opportunities for others to do so," Millar said. "But by selling it to a non-profit or anybody else, that's a clear violation of the Heritage Protection Law."

Millar said the actions were a blatant attempt to circumvent the law, violating state cemetery law because the statue is the headstone of the graves of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife.

Deidre Malone, the president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP, issued the following statement:

"Today history is being made with the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statutes from what are now privately-owned parks. The NAACP Memphis Branch took a position early on stating that we wanted the monuments removed and a legal process followed. The Memphis City Council and Mayor Jim Strickland heard the voices of the people who wanted these removed and legally made it happen. Groups like the NAACP and #Takeemdown901 led by Tami Sawyer have been heard."

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he drove by Health Sciences Park to see the removal for himself. He wrote on his Twitter, "Shows what we can do when we stand tall together on the side of decency and what we know is right. Great work Memphis! Let's take poverty down next."

Shortly after 10 p.m., crews arrived in Downtown Memphis to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis.

Wednesday night, Mayor Strickland issued a statement on the statues' removal, saying in part:

It's important to know why we're here: The Forrest statue was placed in 1904, as Jim Crow segregation laws were enacted. 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.

The Tennessee Historical Commission denied our waiver in October. The state initiated mediation last month. But it has not been successful. That led us to today's outcome.

It's important to remember what I've said all along: I was committed to remove the statues in a lawful way. From the beginning, we have followed state law -- and tonight's action is no different. The Historical Commission was not the only legal avenue.

So if you've spoken up on the statues the past few months, no matter which side, I issue this challenge: Take that energy and apply it to the hard challenges our residents face every single day. Volunteer to be on the front lines. Mentor a child to make a 1-on-1 impact on a life. Help teach a kid to read.

Don't just talk about it -- take action in improving the quality of life in every home, on every block, in every single neighborhood of this great city.

That's the work Memphians have entrusted to us, and I'm determined to not let them down.

This is an important moment in the life of our city. People from all walks of life came together to make today a reality. Let us move forward from this moment committed more than ever to a united and determined Memphis.

Today showed us just how successful we can be when that happens.

Click here to read Mayor Strickland's complete statement.

By 11 p.m., the Jefferson Davis statue had been removed.

A small bronze bust of Confederate Army Captain J. Harvey Mathes, which stood near the statue of Jefferson Davis, was also removed.

Congressman Steven Cohen (D-TN) applauded Strickland and the actions taken to remove the statues. He had the following statement:

"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," Cohen said.

"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."

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