For many, it was a night akin to Nov. 4 2008 when President-elect Barack Obama gave a victory speech in Chicago, signaling that something they thought might not happen in their life time had occurred – the election of an African American to serve as president of the United States.
The statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, which had remained in renamed Health Science Park despite decades of efforts to get the monument to the controversial Confederate general removed, is gone.
Hoisted aloft and loaded onto a flatbed truck at 9:01 Wednesday night, its removal was a surprising move that came within hours of the Memphis City Council’s unanimous vote to sell Health Science Park and Memphis Park. That allowed the new owners to immediately remove the controversial Confederate monuments of Forrest and of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America.
“Operations on those sites tonight are being conducted by a private entity and are compliant with state law,” Mayor Jim Strickland said via a tweet posted as the removal was underway and before a press conference.
The key element in the process that ultimately led to the removal of the statue was the selling of the two parks to Memphis Greenspace, a non-profit group headed by Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, an attorney.
No development can be done to the parks by the group, which will maintain them. Strickland said private financing was used to buy the parks, remove the statues and would be the source of maintaining them as green spaces.
“It’s a moral victory for our city,” said the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba Gray Jr., who was with Strickland as workers maneuvered to remove the Forrest statue. As the work progressed, Gray stepped outside to say, “It’s a moral victory for our city. It’s the removing of a tremendous scar that has hurt our image a long, long time. …”
“I just wish (the late) D’Army Bailey was here and Rev. Dwight Montgomery and Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, who initially started this fight. We had to be protected all night by deputy sheriffs. This is a great moral victory,” he said.
“(It means) justice will prevail and hard work pays off,” he added.
The Rev. Earle J. Fisher credited Tami Sawyer and “her leadership and all of those that have been connected to the #TakeEmDown901 movement. All of us who have fought to make sure that these racist relics no longer stand are trying to take it all in right now. It’s hard to put into words, but we know that there is more work to be done.”
Sawyer said #TakeEmDown901 supporters were not just about the statues.
“Our footwork shows that we are engaged in a multitude of issues. We are all engaged in change. …This is a moment in time and we are going to enjoy this moment. We wake up in the morning and keep fighting until there is equality for all in Memphis.”
Congressman Steve Cohen congratulated Strickland and the Memphis City Council for “removing offensive relics of the Confederacy from prominent places in the city.”
The Memphis NAACP noted that it early took a position calling for the legal removal of the statues.
“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.”
Asked to comment about those who have been rallying for the statues’ removal, Strickland said, “We thank them for supporting our position.”
Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a statement before the statues went down. “They (city council) still can’t break the law, and if they take the statues down, they’ll break the law and should be prosecuted.”