Removal of Confederate monuments sparks political firestorm

Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn (WKRN) – State Republican leaders want an investigation into the sudden removal of Confederate monuments in Memphis Wednesday night.

Majority Leader Glen Casada of Thompson’s Station and GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville claim the Memphis City Council violated “the spirit and intent of state law in protecting Tennessee history.”

At the same time, Tennessee Democrats are applauding the removal of Confederate statues because “the citizens of Memphis don’t have to be reminded of how their ancestors were brutalized.”

A deal struck Wednesday night by the Memphis City Council sold two parks that housed the monuments to a non-profit group called Memphis Greenspace, Inc. Almost immediately, private crews showed up with cranes to remove the statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis from the two different parks.   The non-profit group claims their action was not governed by state law.

Thursday morning, Memphis Greenspace leaders held a news conference explaining the process. The news conference took place at Health Sciences Park in front of where the nine-thousand-pound statue of General Forrest on a horse stood less than 24 hours ago.

They say anonymous donors paid for removal of the statues by the company All World Project Management. The statues have been moved to an undisclosed location. And Memphis Police are monitoring the parks until the non-profit group hires private security. They say the non-profit, not the City of Memphis, will cover any legal costs in the months ahead.

The non-profit also says they are working with Sons of Confederate Veterans to possibly turn over the statues to them.

In addition, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife are buried in Health Sciences Park, at the site of his monument.  It is unclear whether their remains will be moved.

Republican lawmakers now want answers to these questions:

  • Did Memphis officials violate sunshine laws by coordinating sale of the parks outside the public eye?
  • Did anyone gain financially from the rapid sale?
  • Were existing state statutes violated related to the removal or relocation of the memorials?

Casada and Williams also issued this statement:

The Tennessee Historical Commission has already voted to deny the city’s application to remove these statues and this decision in Shelby County, at a minimum, completely violates both the spirit and intent of state law in protecting Tennessee history. We are governed by the rule of law here in Tennessee and these actions are a clear infringement of this principle and set a dangerous precedence for our state.

The Tennessee Democratic Caucus sent out its own statement supporting removal of the Confederate monuments:

Caucus leaders said they fully support the City of Memphis in removing all symbols of hate from public places.  Caucus Vice-Chairman Antonio Parkinson said “We applaud Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis City Council for finding a way to clear a path for a future where the citizens of Memphis don’t have to be reminded of how their ancestors were brutalized, raped and forcibly separated from their families through the institution of slavery.”

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh also praised the removal, saying in a tweet that “last night was Exhibit A to the love and affection I have for the Bluff City.”

Sons of Confederate Veterans could file a lawsuit in the coming week to challenge removal of the statues. Spokesman Lee Millar says, “It’s just disgusting that the City would stoop so low as to tear down monuments to our history, that’s just very callous of the Mayor and the City Council.”

Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner maintains, “Those laws do not apply to a private non-profit organization, I think we are well prepared for any legal battles which may arise and again, we’ll see what the courts say.”

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