Memphis Takes Down Confederate Statues After Outmaneuvering the State

The statues celebrated Jefferson Davis and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that used to stand in a Memphis park.Adrian Sainz/AP

After more than two years of fighting with the state of Tennessee, the Memphis City Council cast a unanimous vote on Wednesday night to remove two Confederate statues in city parks. 

That same night, the statues came down.

As I reported in October, the city has been working to remove statues of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest and former Confederate President Jefferson Davis from two of its public parks for more than two years but has been overruled by the state repeatedly because of a law called the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. That 2013 law gives the Tennessee Historical Commission the power to essentially veto requests to remove historic landmarks, such as state memorials to the Confederacy.

To circumvent the law, the City Council sold the two parks to a nonprofit, Memphis Greenspace, for $1,000 each. The nonprofit, which is owned by Shelby County Commissioner Van D. Turner Jr., appears to have been created for this purpose—it filed its incorporation papers in October. In September, the City Council had passed a law that allows parks to be sold for less than their market value.

According to the mayor’s office, the statue of Forrest came down at 9:01 p.m. local time—a nod to the city’s area code. The citizen effort to remove the two statues is known as Take ‘Em Down 901. A crowd chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.” The statue of Davis came down around 10:45 p.m., to the sound of locals singing “Hit the Road, Jack” and cheering, the New York Times reported.

Memphis citizens had been pushing to have the statues taken down before April 4, 2018—the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in the city.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate