Authorities in Memphis, a city steeped in civil rights history, removed two statues of Confederate leaders on Wednesday hours after the downtown parkland where they stood was sold to a private group.
Several U.S. cities have in recent months dismantled monuments to Confederate leaders, which have become focal points for a fraught national debate over race and politics.
The removal of the statutes of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest comes three months before Memphis marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination there of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Confederate General Forrest was a slave trader and a Ku Klux Klan leader.
The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to sell the two parks and crews began working right away to remove a statue of Forrest. At the second park, a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was later taken down.
Selling the parks to a third party was a way to get around the Tennessee Historical Commission, which had previously denied the city’s petition to take the statues down.
Statues of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis (above) and Nathan Bedford Forrest were removed from Memphis on Wednesday
Memphis is the latest city to take down statues commemorating Confederate leaders. The statue to Forrest (above) included his remains in the base
The parks were sold to Greenspace Inc. for $1,000 each, The Commercial Appeal reported. Memphis Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said Greenspace can legally remove the statues, which the city was unable to do.
Live video from Health Sciences Park captured cheers as the statue of Forrest was lifted off its marble base and placed on a flatbed truck late Wednesday. Police had cordoned off the area around the statue. The statue of Davis was at Fourth Bluff Park.
McMullen said the statues would be stored in an undisclosed location.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted that the work in the parks complies with state law.
Earlier this month, the city filed a petition asking for judicial review of the Tennessee Historical Commission’s denial of a request to remove the Forrest statue.
The Memphis City Council sold the parks containing the statues to get around the Tennessee Historical Commission, which had previously rebuffed their attempts to take the statues down. Above, the Forrest statue before it was taken down
‘I commend Mayor Strickland and the City Council for finding a way to legally remove statues from an era that is not representative of Memphis today and have remained an affront to most of the citizens of Memphis,’ U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, said in a statement.
Cities have tried to remove Confederate monuments after the racially motivated massacre of nine people at a black church in South Carolina and a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Protesters have called for the removal of the Forrest statue, saying it represents racism and bigotry. City leaders have discussed ways to relocate the statue and move his remains, which are buried under the monument.
Forrest was a slave trader, Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader who became influential in the city’s growth after the Civil War.
Supporters of keeping the statue in place say it represents an important part of history. The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Memphis has said such monuments do not represent white supremacy and it would be a mistake to remove them.
‘It is a deliberate attempt to avoid the state law and the city is breaking the law,’ Lee Millar with Sons of Confederate Veterans told WREG-TV on Wednesday.