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VOL. 130 | NO. 162 | Thursday, August 20, 2015

Final Forrest Statue Vote Moves Controversy to Planning Stage

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members closed out a series of votes Tuesday, Aug. 18, on moving the statue and disinterring the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park near Downtown Memphis.

A man who identified himself as “Mike Junior” removes graffiti Monday, Aug. 10, from the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue, which has long been a controversial presence in the city park once named in his honor. Supporters of the statue and Forrest rallied at Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting as the council took its last vote approving the statue’s removal.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The council voted Tuesday, 11 to 1, in favor of the move with council member Bill Boyd casting the only ‘no ‘vote. A similar resolution passed unanimously in July.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Forrest supporters massed in council chambers. It was the most vocal opposition at City Hall since June when Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said the time was right to move the statue and disinter the remains of the Confederate General, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and his wife Mary Ann.

“Because this is an election year, are any votes cast here today by anyone in any way related to political agendas or possible political ambitions?” Don Ware asked rhetorically of the council.

“History doesn’t care if you’re offended,” said Greg Richardson who described himself as a “living historian” and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “You can try to erase the past. You can try to put a different spin on it. But the truth always shines through.”

Several of those opposed to the statue’s move termed Forrest a “hero” and a “military genius.” A few described him as the city’s “first civil rights champion” for a single speech Forrest gave after the Civil War.

Council members listened and then took the final vote without comment.

Elmwood Cemetery has agreed to help move the remains and reinter the couple in a Forrest family plot. Both were originally buried at Elmwood and then moved to the monument after it was erected in 1905. The park that houses the statue previously was called Forrest Park until the council renamed it, as well as two other Confederate-themed city parks, two years ago.

The monument’s fate remains an open question; Elmwood cannot house it.

The city’s actions could prompt lawsuits similar to those filed over the park renamings, some of which are still pending in the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The city is required to file a lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court to disinter the remains.

Wharton reacted with a plan to move the Forrest statue in the wake of the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C. The accused shooter in the deaths of nine people posted numerous social media photos showing him posed with a Confederate flag as well as an online manifesto that expressed his allegiance to the Confederacy.

None of the critics mentioned the massacre.

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