Tennessee Republicans punish Memphis for removal of Confederate statues

Base on which the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue once stood in Health Sciences Park. (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to strip $250,000 from next year’s budget as punishment to the city of Memphis for the removal of statues of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis last year.

The Republican dominated house voted to take the money away from what was to be used for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration.

“What you’re doing here today is the bad actions of someone who brought arms against their nation and fought against our country, committed treason, then was a proven war criminal, and was a slave trader,” said Democrat Bo Mitchell, referring to Forrest. “You’re going to choose to honor that person here on this floor today and hold it against a city.”

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.

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 Green-space, 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 move came in the form of a last minute amendment just before the final vote to approve Gov. Haslam’s $37 billion budget.
Republicans defended the act, saying that there had to be consequences for what the city of Memphis had done.

“I think the city of Memphis, like any other city in the nation, needs to if not obey the law, at least obey the spirit of the law,” said Republican Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga. “The law was very clear, and they got smart lawyers to figure out how to wiggle around the law.”

Another Republican legislator, Andy Holt, of Dresden, compared the removal of the statues to the destruction of monuments by ISIS saying, “that’s what ISIS does” and “today is a demonstration that bad actions have bad consequences, and my only regret about this is it’s not in the tune of millions of dollars.”

“This amendment and the explanation, it is hateful, it is unkind, it is un-Christian-like and it is unfair, okay?” said Democrat Raumesh Akbari on the House floor.

“Memphis is a city in this state, and I am sick of people in this House acting like it is not.”

Memphis Mayor, Jim Strickland, responded to the removal of the funds tweeting that the bicentennial celebration, “will be an amazing celebration of our great city that has changed the world — and is *still* changing the world — with authenticity and soul, and with grit and grind.”

Strickland also tweeted, “As it relates to last year’s removal of divisive Confederate statues, we followed the state law down to the letter of it. I continue to be grateful to the diverse group of Memphians who came together to support our efforts.”

A go fund me page has been started by Memphis citizen Brittney Block for the city. According to Block, the money will be donated to the city in a restricted grant to be used for Memphis’ 200th anniversary celebration in 2019.

The page reads, “April 17th, the Tennessee House approved an amendment that removed $250,000 from our city, punishing Memphis for removing two Confederate monuments.

These dollars would have been used for our city’s bicentennial celebration. If you are a Memphian, Tennessean, or general supporter of the removal of these statues in our community, please, consider donating; 25,000 of us donating $10 each would replenish the dollars lost. All money raised will be given to the City of Memphis. Our city should not be punished by the legislature for making decisions in the best interest of its community and citizens.”