Black leaders purchase park in order to remove Confederate statues

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner addressing the media after removal of the Confederate monuments.  With Turner are Memphis Greenspace board members (from left) Andy DeShazo, Janique Byrd and Luther Mercer.  Photo by Andrea Morales, courtesy of MLK50.com.

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner addressing the media after removal of the Confederate monuments. With Turner are Memphis Greenspace board members (from left) Andy DeShazo, Janique Byrd and Luther Mercer. (Photo by Andrea Morales, courtesy of MLK50.com.)

Late at night on Wednesday, December 20, two Confederate statues were removed in Memphis after a private group lead by a county commissioner purchased two parks.

The removal of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis from Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park has been a point of contention for years.

Forrest was a Confederate Army general during the American Civil War and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis served as the president of the Confederate States and was a supporter of slavery.

“Both the Nathan Bedford Forest and the Jefferson Davis statues will no longer stand in our city,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “The forest statue was placed in 1904 while Jim Crow segregation laws were being enacted. The Davis statue was placed in 1964 as The Civil Rights Movement was changing this country. These statues no longer represent who we are as a modern diverse city with momentum.”

The removal of the statues was made possible by the sale of the parks for $1,000 each by the city to the group Memphis Greenspace, Inc. The group is headed by Shelby County Commissioner and attorney Van Turner who confirmed that his group purchased the park with the help of anonymous donors.

The very night that the park was sold, the statues were removed at 9:01 pm, a nod to the Memphis area code and the group ‘Take ‘Em Down 901,’ which has long advocated for the statues’ removal.

“This is a victory for grass-roots movements in the city,” said the group’s leader, Tami Sawyer.

“This happened because people mandated it and wanted it,” she said to cheers. “Take ‘Em Down 901 is now Took ‘Em Down 901.”

Selling the parks to a private entity allowed the city to skirt the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, passed in 2013 and amended in 2016, which prohibits the removal, relocation or renaming of a memorial that is on public property.

“We are absolutely outraged at the continual attempts of Memphis to besmirch the good name of our ancestors, their cause, and their leaders,” Carl Jones, chief of Heritage Operations of Sons of Confederate Veterans said in a Facebook post. “The ignorant, shameful, and dishonest tactics used against his memorial will not be tolerated by us, or by the American people, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans will exhaust every resource at our disposal to, once again, fight against the politically correct and perpetually ignorant who are behind this putrid, evil, and hate-inspired travesty of justice.”

“I am a lawyer and servant of the people who saw a problem, used my skills and passion and a drive to deliver a solution,” said Commissioner Turner.

“I presented this solution to Bruce Mcmullins, attorney for the city of Memphis and he has consistently been an advocate for the removal of these statues legally.”

Turner says that this is only the beginning, and that there are other parks with monuments that need to be removed.

“It is a momentous occasion for Memphis, but in the shadow of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King the question on our minds is where do we go from here.”

The statues are currently kept in a non-disclosed location.