Memphis City Council votes on ordinance to remove Confederate statues

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis City Council on Tuesday voted for an ordinance that would remove Confederate statues in two city parks if their request to the state is denied.

The ordinance, approved on the first of three required readings, called the statues a "public nuisance" and violation of African-Americans' right to enjoy the parks and reaffirm the city's commitment to remove the statues by any available legal option sometime after October 13.

All council members were added as sponsors.

City Council voted to remove the statues in 2015, but the decision has been held up after state law was changed to give the Tennessee Historical Commission oversight over the statues. The commission, which meets again in October, has so far refused to grant the city a waiver to allow removal.

The ordinance cites Memphis' history with segregated public parks, which resulted in a lawsuit in 1960, and states that the statues were "erected during the Jim Crow era and were dedicated when the parks in which they were erected could not be used by African Americans."

It also states that the recent public protest and potential for violence has "interfered with the public's use and enjoyment of public places."

The gravesite of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was moved from Elmwood Cemetery to a park on Union Avenue and a monument erected in 1905. The statue to Confederate president Jefferson Davis was erected in the 1960s.

Chairman Berlin Boyd said in a statement that council was representing the will of the community.

"These statues must go and must go quickly, legally, and in a way that will endure forever. They are a nuisance to this community on every front. In two weeks, we’ll choose exactly how to move forward," Boyd said.

The Memphis Police Department spent $55,031 in overtime pay last month to guard the Confederate monuments in two city parks, according to information presented to City Council on Tuesday.

That's in addition to $8,795 for officers detailed to the park on days when events did not occur, MPD said in its presentation.

Officers from 14 precincts and units were called in to help guard the monuments of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in Health Sciences Park and Confederate president Jefferson Davis in Memphis Park, after the monuments became the target of protests and potential vandalism.