The New York Times reports that on Wednesday evening a statue of Confederate general, Klu Klux Klan member, and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest was removed from Health Sciences Park in Memphis. As statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis has also been cordoned off by police, according to ABC News, and will be removed imminently.
How did Memphis achieve this feat? Somewhat ingeniously by transferring ownership of the two parks in which those statues had resided (Health Science Park and Memphis Park) to private owners at the attractive purchasing price of $1,000, thus getting around the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which, the Times notes, outlaws the removal, relocation, or renaming of memorials—including, it would seem, memorials to human bondage—on public property. The Memphis City Council voted unanimously on the measure to sell the parks Wednesday night.
The technical legal maneuver was enacted after the Tennessee Historical Commission denied the city’s request for the two statues to be removed in October. And Memphis is suddenly in rather a hurry to remove the statues since the flagrant disrespect they represent and tacitly normalize has become news again, and because the city will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April.
Memphis’s mayor, Jim Strickland, announced the sales of the parks on Twitter Wednesday evening.
Only an hour after the City Council’s vote, cranes and police already had the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest at Health Sciences Park surrounded, and it was officially lifted at 9:01 PM in homage to the city’s 901 area code, according to a spokesperson for Strickland.