MEMPHIS, Tenn. —The Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce became the latest influential group to support removing Confederate statues, issuing a statement Thursday.
"In 2013, the Greater Memphis Chamber supported the name change of the Confederate parks and the removal of these statues. We have been consistent in our position that we are opposed to any symbol that divides us and is a detriment to our ability to attract and retain business and people to our community. We support our city’s action to remove the statues and look forward to moving Memphis forward in our creation of jobs, attraction of business and enjoyment of public spaces for all."
Mayor Jim Strickland spoke out Wednesday night after Memphis activists handed him a "list of demands" to remove confederate monuments, set up a "public engagement process" for their replacements and ban white supremacy groups.
Mayor Strickland says he supports removing confederate statues in Memphis but plans to do it in a lawful way. However, Take Em Down 901 is still calling for immediate action that the statues come down now.
"The few folks that are asking us to do that ... there's a reason they're not doing it themselves because it's against state law and they would be arrested," said Mayor Strickland. "I have an even higher standard because I've taken an oath."
Mayor Strickland says Tennessee is one of the few states where a state law prohibits movement or altering confederate statues. Activist Tami Sawyer says there has to be another solution.
"On the eve of MLK 50, we're going to quote the good Dr. King: 'A law that is unjust is no law at all,'" said Sawyer. "We do not have three months, we do not have three years to wait in court for these structures to continue to stand in our city, MLK 50 is quickly arising."
"Even Birmingham has covered with tarp the confederate statues that stand in their cities," Sawyer continued. "What Birmingham did was a first step, I mean they covered the statues, they at least say we denounce them and we can't continue to say we denounce them with words and not take any actions."
Wednesday Sawyer and about 50 activists delivered a letter basically saying enough is enough and they want something done now.
So we asked Keith Norman with the Tennessee Historical Commission if they can vote sooner on removing the statues. He said it's possible, but right now he wants to make sure it can be a fair vote.
"I asked for disclosure at the last meeting for people who had affiliations with various groups that support the confederacy to be disclosed so they could not vote on this issue, that seems to be a conflict of interest to me, and with that conflict of interest we think that they should be recused and then we should have a clean and clear vote," said Norman.
The Tennessee Historical Commission is meeting in October to talk about the statues, but the earliest vote is not expected until February.
Norman told us Wednesday he believes it needs to be addressed before that, and he asked Gov. Bill Haslam to call for a special meeting so they vote much sooner. When we hear something, we'll be sure to let you know.