OK, so the Tennessee Historical Commission is what many in Memphis thought it was – a body that would reject the City of Memphis’ request for a waiver to move the statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park.
And while the fight continues to get the image of Forrest – an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan and the commander associated with the massacre of hundreds of black soldiers – removed from the park, the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) said no to the city’s pitch for a waiver during a hearing in Athens, Tenn. on Friday.
“I know what our community wants to happen: We wish to reserve our pedestals and our places of honor for those who unite us,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in an impassioned plea to the commission.
Strickland had Memphis backing – local activists, clergy and members of the city’s administration made the trek. The THC serves as the authority for all war monuments and memorials in Tennessee.
The City of Memphis has 60 days to take the matter to Chancery Court in Davidson County and that’s the plan. Another path forward opened up Friday when the City secured the THC’s approval to have an administrative judge determine if the City of Memphis actually needs the commission’s approval of a waiver request to remove the statues.
“First, we must understand and come to terms with why this statue exists in the first place,” said Strickland, who posted a transcript of what he told the THC. “It was not placed in this park immediately after the war, nor was there even a battle at this site. It was placed there 40 years after the Civil War — and just as Jim Crow laws began to be enacted in Memphis and throughout the South.”
The goal is to have the statues removed by April 4, 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel (now part of the Civil Rights Museum).
Tami Sawyer with #TakeEmDown901 journeyed to Athens for the hearing. Soon after the decision, she took to Facebook with this post:
“Memphis leadership will either drag this out in court or be brave and courageous and remove the statues now. What do you want them to do?”
Back in Memphis Friday evening, Sawyer and other members of #TakeEmDown901 staged a street performance/demonstration outside FedExForum moments before the Memphis Grizzlies took on the New Orleans Pelicans. Dressed in all black, the demonstrators held signs, took a knee with raised fists and at one point lay prone on the plaza. A cover was put over a man dressed in the likeness of Forrest.
“No one does this stuff to get patted on the back, no one does this stuff to get famous,” Sawyer said. “We do this because we care.”
Grizzlies head oach David Fizdale acknowledged the demonstrators during a post-game interview, saying “Take ‘em Down, Memphis. Take ‘em down.”
Strickland says he wants the the statue moved to “a place where it will be viewed in its correct context, so that it can teach future generations of the true history of Tennessee.”
The Memphis City Council will vote during the Oct. 17 meeting on a proposed ordinance that would declare the statues a public nuisance, a move thought to lead to the immediate removal or covering up of the monuments (the other honoring Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis in Fourth Bluff Park).
Sawyer said to expect “more demonstrations, more civil disobedience. …”