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Under cover? City lays out possible future for Confederate statues

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis City Council members discussed four options for what to do with the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues in city parks Tuesday, but took no action.

Options included 1) immediate removal, storage or destruction, 2) sale of monuments at auction or private sale, 3) request the governor to seek a special session of the Tennessee Historical Commission to consider the city's request for removal, and 4) boarding up the statues to protect them.

Council Attorney Allan Wade told council members that the first option would be the most drastic.

But asking the state for a waiver would be difficult and time-consuming. Several members of the Tennessee Historical Commission are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Wade said.

As for the fourth option,  Wade pointed out that Birmingham recently chose to cover its Confederate monuments with plywood.

The city of Memphis has the authority to do that if it's in the interest of preserving the statue, he said.

Jefferson Davis statue in Memphis

Councilman Martavius Jones said he favored covering the statues.

He pointed out that there are no monuments in the United States for other people and groups who took up arms against the United States, such as Japan in World War II.

"It would be no different than having a monument for Osama bin Laden," Jones said. "There was nothing great that the Confederacy did."

Councilman Worth Morgan said  police officers need to be doing better things than "baby sitting" these two statues.

As a descendant of the North Carolina state treasurer during the Civil War, he said, no one in Memphis could challenge him on his knowledge of Civil War history. But the statues had a purpose other than commemorating history.

"It's past time that we relocate these statues to a more appropriate place," he said. "Compassion is probably the best and only path forward for this city."

A resolution on the matter was ultimately tabled until September.

Mayor Jim Strickland asked Memphis residents Tuesday to send their feedback to the state agency that is blocking removal of Confederate statues from city parks.

Strickland supports removal of the statues and Memphis City Council has voted for removal, but that decision was halted by the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Tuesday, Strickland asked residents to make their views knows to the commission. The city will present it to the commission at its next meeting.

 

Last week, a group of activists called "Take 'Em Down 901" sent Mayor Jim Strickland a letter demanding the city remove the statues in the wake of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The council voted to remove the statues years ago, but they haven't been able to do so since state law requires approval from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

"The Tennessee Historical Commission doesn't meet until October. We're hoping and anticipating after discussion tomorrow that maybe we can draft, send up a letter of urgency to the Governor, asking him to convene an emergency meeting to get those monuments removed."

Sawyer's group presented city leaders Tuesday with a petition to remove the statues that they say was signed by 4,500 people.

Also Tuesday, state Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis asked Gov. Bill Haslam to force the state to take action on the statues. Haslam has come out against the display of a bust of Forrest in the state capitol, but has not weighed in on the Memphis landmarks.

Over the weekend, seven people were arrested during a protest at the Forrest statue. The charges ranged from disorderly conduct to vandalizing a public monument.