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Renewed pitch to take down statues ahead of historical commission meeting

No sign of backing down is being shown by #TakeEmDown901 supporters. (Photo: Montee Lopez)

Local pastors stood alongside community activist Tami Sawyer on Wednesday as she called for the immediate removal of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statue from Health Sciences Park.

The gathering in the park came as Sawyer prepared for the five-hour, 385-mile drive to Athens, Tenn. where on Friday the Tennessee Historical Commission is set to meet. On the agenda is a discussion of the City of Memphis’ waiver request to move the Forrest statue.

“Regardless of what’s decided by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which should be noted many of the members are Sons of Confederate Veterans, we demand that our mayor and our city council take immediate action,” Sawyer said.

For Sawyer and #TakeEmDown901 supporters, the goal is to have the statues taken down before April 4, 2018 – the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel (now a part of the National Civil Rights Museum).

Rev Stacy Spencer of New Direction Christian Church speaks about #TakeEmDown. (Photo: Montee Lopez)

The commission is allowing limited comment on be the waiver request. Sawyer is on the approved list of speakers.

“The statue can be covered, the statue can be boxed in, the statue can be boxed in,” Sawyer said during Wednesday’s demonstration.

“We have no equality in this city at this time. …There is no black wealth. The racial wealth gap is over $90,000 in disparity between blacks and whites. These statues of oppression can no longer stand.”

On hold before the Memphis City Council – pending the commission hearing – is a proposed ordinance that could result in the Forrest statue and the statue of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis being covered up or moved. The Davis statue is located in Fourth Bluff Park.

The Rev. Stacey Spencer of New Direction Christian Church was among the church leaders at Health Sciences Park for the morning demonstration. He said it was “antithetical to being Christian and antithetical to being humane to continue to have a statue that represents slavery, racism, terrorism. …This tumor of a statue represents what Memphis used to be about.”

Dr. Deborah B. Smith, Metro District superintendent in the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church, said the city cannot honor a man who “slaughtered African-American men on the battlefield.”

“It reminds us that we should be quiet, it reminds us how injustice told us we are dehumanized, and not recognized – and that there is no justice,” Smith said.

Mayor Jim Strickland plans to attend the Tennessee Historical Commission meeting to ask the commissioners for a timely hearing on the city’s waiver request and not delay it. Meanwhile, members of #TakeEmDown901 said the administration had shown no interest in collaborating with them toward removal of the statues.

In August, Sawyer delivered a list of demands addressed to Mayor Strickland concerning the statues. She said there had been no response.

In a recent op-ed, Strickland said, “We’ve been working on this (removal of the statue) since before it was popular – before it grabbed the headlines and sparked the passion that we see now, particularly post-Charlottesville.”

Sawyer and other members of #TakeEmDown901 said they are prepared for any decision made by the Tennessee Historical Commission.

“It’s a dog and pony show,” Hunter Demster with #TakeEmDown901 said. “I don’t think anything’s going to come out of (Friday).”

No waiver request has yet been filed to begin the process of removing the statue of Jefferson Davis.

Sawyer is asking supporters to contact Tennessee Historical Commission Executive Director Patrick McIntyre at 615-770-1096, in addition to Strickland’s office, to voice support for removing the statues.

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