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

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

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.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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