Memphis removes statues of Confederate leaders after unanimous vote and private sale

Score one for history

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 21, 2017 12:24PM (EST)

A statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest sits in a park in Memphis, Tennessee (AP/Adrian Sainz)
A statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest sits in a park in Memphis, Tennessee (AP/Adrian Sainz)

Two Confederate statues were removed from a Memphis park on Wednesday night after city officials sold the area to a nonprofit group.

The Memphis City Council began the process of taking down the statues by selling Health Science Park and its easement on Fourth Bluff Park to a nonprofit called Memphis Greenspace Inc., according to USA Today. Health Science Park contained a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Fourth Bluff Park contained a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The city did this because Tennessee state law made it very difficult to take down the statues from a bureaucratic standpoint — even though many city officials wanted to do so. Once the parks were sold, however, the private entity that owned them could do as they wished. As a result, the statues of Forrest and Davis were promptly taken down on Wednesday night.

"It's really going down in history that this is the night they are going to take the statues down. It's a historic moment," City Council member Janis Fullilove told USA Today.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., released a statement reflecting that he agreed with the decision by Memphis city leaders (Cohen represents a congressional district that includes Memphis).

"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 in his statement.

The issue of removing Confederate statues has been a contentious one, with President Donald Trump siding with the groups that do not want them to be taken down. In August he tweeted that it was "sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," and earlier that month he incurred controversy by saying that there were "very fine people" among the white nationalists marching to keep up the statues.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. His diverse interests are reflected in his interview, including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), media entrepreneur Dan Abrams, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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Charlottesville Riots Confederate Statues Donald Trump Jefferson Davis Memphis Nathan Bedford Forrest