Court requires Confederate statues be preserved for now

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — A Davidson County judge Monday issued an order requiring the nonprofit group that removed three Confederate statues from former Memphis city parks to preserve the statues as a lawsuit moves forward.

The temporary injunction prevents the statues from being sold or destroyed.

Lee Millar, spokesman for The Sons of Confederate Veterans, says it's a small victory - but the fight isn't over.

READ: Memorandum and Order Issuing Temporary Injunction

The monuments in the former Forrest Park and Confederate Park were removed the night the city transferred the parks to nonprofit Memphis Greenspace Inc. in a surprise move in December.

"It was just an outrage the city took the statues down in the first place," Millar said. "No monuments or history should be destroyed or taken down."

"It was great news. It was just verification of our position alone that the statues were taken illegally, and the city and Memphis Greenspace are criminally co-conspirators," Millar said.

The judge didn't mention legality or criminality but did order Memphis Greenspace to keep and preserve the statues. Greenspace is the non-profit that now owns the two Memphis parks where the monuments once stood.

The statues have been housed in a warehouse since then and Memphis Greenspace said Monday the group planned on preserving the statues anyway.

"We, Memphis Greenspace, are continuing to do exactly as the court ordered today," Greenspace president Van Turner said in a news release after the decision. "We promise to fulfill our mission by preserving the statues, ensuring the safety of our parks, and activating our plan through collaborative programming and community engagement."

However, Lee Millar with Sons of Confederate Veterans contends that the statues were damaged during the removal and transport process.

► Related: Greenspace group announces plans for former Forrest, Confederate parks

A state law had prevented the city from removing bronze statues of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and CSA president Jefferson Davis from the properties, but the transfer to a nonprofit group allowed for what the city believes is a legal solution. A smaller bust of Confederate soldier Harvey Mathes also was removed.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp No. 215 has sued the city, claiming the removal violated state law.

“We anticipated that this matter would be challenged legally at every level," said Bruce McMullen, chief legal officer for the City of Memphis, in a statement. "We are confident that our actions will withstand that scrutiny and those challenges.”