VOL. 10 | NO. 34 | Saturday, August 19, 2017
City Council To Take Up Monument Removal Resolution
By Bill Dries
UTHSC students and faculty led a Friday protest in Health Sciences Park calling for the immediate removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue there. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
Memphis City Council members will discuss and possibly vote Tuesday, Aug. 22, on a resolution that directs the city to act on the “immediate removal and/or sale of Nathan Bedford Forrest statue from Health Sciences Park and statue of Jefferson Davis and related artifacts from Memphis Park.”
The resolution is scheduled for discussion at the 2:15 p.m. executive session and could be added to the council agenda or voted on later at the first council session in September.
As the item was added to the council’s committee list Friday afternoon, a group of 50-60 citizens led by students and faculty at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center gathered in front of the Forrest statue to call for its immediate removal.
“Let’s be clear,” said Bryan Goodman, a dentistry school student and president of the student government. “This statue was strategically placed to intimidate and terrorize persons of color.”
The park is city property but it is maintained by the university in an arrangement with the city which Goodman referred to.
“It’s our park,” he said. “Take the statue down or take the park back. The statue is a direct contradiction of the oath we all take as health care professionals to do no harm.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said the immediate removal of the statues would violate state law and that his administration is instead pushing ahead with an appeal to the Tennessee Historical Commission for a waiver to take down the monuments under state law.
And if the commission denies the city’s appeal, Strickland has said the city is prepared to go to Chancery Court on the issue.
But Strickland has been adamant that he will not order the immediate removal called for by the students and others in the last week participating in a series of protests and demonstrations as part of a “Take Them Down 901” movement.
Strickland has said UTHSC is also bound by the same state law because it is a state government institution.
The movement’s goal is the immediate removal of the statues without waiting on a decision from the state board or a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Memphis Police have had an around-the-clock presence in both parks around both statues in the last week.
Also Friday, state Senator Sara Kyle of Memphis filed legislation in Nashville that would exempt Shelby County from the state law that requires the historical commission waiver to remove a statue.
"People in Memphis have made it abundantly clear they don't want a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in their park," Kyle said in a written statement. "We shouldn't have to wait for the historic commission to sign off and tell us what we're allowed to do."
The earliest the legislature could approve such an amendment would be in January unless the governor were to call a special session of the legislature. City Council member Bill Morrison has advocated just such a special session.
The council discussion Tuesday is likely to include the council’s role under the city charter as the final word on the sale and use of city property, including park land.
Over several years of controversy about the Memphis Zoo’s use of the Overton Park Greensward for overflow parking, the council acted in 2016 to give the zoo use of the greensward during a mediation effort to come up with a compromise.
And the council negotiated and approved the compromise to create 415 new parking spaces in a reconfigured zoo parking lot that was independent of a compromise Strickland had outlined.
Strickland, during the process, affirmed that the final decision invloving park land was ultimately up to the council.
The council discussion Tuesday is also expected to feature legal opinions on what would happen should a council decision violate state law. Strickland has said because of the oath the mayor and council members take to uphold state laws as well as the city charter, the result could be an ouster lawsuit to remove them from office.
Strickland could also use a rare veto of any council resolution on the matter that might be approved, which would also likely involve a discussion about the separation of powers between the mayor and the council in the city charter.