Activists who fought hard to remove two Confederate statues in Memphis celebrated a major victory Wednesday night. Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest monuments were taken down overnight in Fourth Bluff Park and Health Sciences Park in front of a chanting crowd of civil rights advocates and onlookers. The historical move, one activist said, was the culmination of months of protest work that put pressure on elected officials.
“This is thousands of people who came together to put names on petitions, to donate money and time … to get arrested, to get people out of jail … so here we are today as the year draws to a close seeing justice and righteousness happen,” Tami Sawyer, a leader of grassroots activism group #TakeEmDown901, said. “It means that can be possible for any of us on any of these issues as we continue to fight for equality and equity in Memphis.
The Forrest statue, installed in 1904, represented racism to a lot of residents, the Commercial Appeal reported. Forrest was a pre-war slave trader and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — a group he later renounced. Davis, the president of the Confederate states, was a slave owner and is viewed as a White supremacist. Both statues were placed in undisclosed storage locations after Wednesday’s removal.
The removal was greenlit after the parks that housed both statues were sold by the city of Memphis for $1,000 each to a nonprofit, Greenspace Inc, which had the legal power to take down the monuments, Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said. City officials had been battling for several months against the state’s red tape to keep the statues up even in the face of public opposition. Leaders had discussed the statue’s relocation and moving Forrest’s remains, which are buried under the monument, NBC News reported.
“I commend [Memphis] Mayor [Jim] 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,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, stated. “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.” Tennessee state Rep. Raumesh Akbari said she hopes the state legislature will respect Memphis’ decision. “Each city needs to be able to do what’s best for themselves,” she said.
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