Crews worked through the night Wednesday to remove two Confederate statues from parks in Memphis, Tennessee, after city officials sold the land to a nonprofit entity.
Crowds gathered outside Health Sciences Park as cranes lifted the equestrian statue of Civil War general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from its pedestal. About 1.5 miles away, a similar operation was underway at Memphis Park to remove a statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.
“Bring it down,” onlookers shouted as the Davis statue was lifted from its base.
The removals follow years of dispute over what to do with the controversial symbols. The Forrest statue was placed in 1904 amid the passage of Jim Crow-era segregation laws, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a news conference Wednesday night. The Davis statue was placed in 1964 amid the battle for Civil Rights. And, in three months, crowds are expected to descend on Memphis for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death at the Lorraine Motel.
“History is being made in Memphis tonight,” Strickland said. “The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum.
“Our community wants to reserve places of reverence for those that we honor.”
The Memphis City Council voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to move the statues as part of the sale of the two parks to a nonprofit. Strickland said the sale was necessary to move the statues through legal means after the Tennessee Historical Commission denied the city’s request for a waiver that would have enabled their removal.
Strickland said the parks were sold for $1,000 each to a nonprofit called Memphis Greenspace.
“From the beginning we have followed state law and tonight’s action is no different,” he said. “The historic commission was not the only legal avenue.”