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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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