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VOL. 132 | NO. 167 | Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Council Considers Other Legal Options on Confederate Monuments

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members are exploring new options for the Confederate monuments in city parks that include boarding up statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis as nuisances, to prevent them from being vandalized to maintain public order, or by citing a provision of the state’s Civil Rights Act.

The options outlined by council attorney Allan Wade Tuesday, Aug. 22, after a half hour private attorney-client session with council members pushed back any council vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues, or boxing them up and otherwise obscuring them from public view.

“We do have the authority by statute to board it up if we believe it is in the best interest of protecting it,” Wade said.

Council members review their legal options again Tuesday, Sept. 5, in committee sessions and could vote at the full council meeting later that day.


Council chairman Berlin Boyd said he is committed to “doing everything in my power to see that statue and monument be removed.”

“We have Home Depot and he had Negro Depot,” Boyd said referring to advertisements for Forrest’s slave market. “It’s like the South was victorious and won. They act like they were victorious.”

The legal options included playing out the process of getting a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission that allows the city to take down the monuments.

“Let me see if I can describe it simply,” Wade said. “It is probably easier to have someone executed by lethal injection in Tennessee than to get a waiver from the state historical commission."

Seeking the waiver has been the strategy of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Another option is seeking an expedited decision by the historical commission sooner than its October meeting and then a February vote, which must be a two-thirds vote, to grant the waiver. The commission includes several members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who have been vocal opponents of any attempt to remove the statues and hold annual events at Forrest’s statue honoring him.

As the council was discussing the matter, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, in the city for a different occasion, said he isn’t likely to push for an expedited meeting of the historical commission.

“They have their schedule and I think it’s important to let them stick to what their schedule is,” he said. “That would be my intention. I don’t call that. I’m not the chair. As the governor, I can call special sessions of the legislature, but that’s not what’s involved at this point.”

Haslam also told reporters that he has talked with Strickland about the controversy and the process.

“He wants it to come down. He thinks it should and I agree with him,” Haslam said. “But here’s the other thing, there is a process and he’s doing everything in his power to speed that process along, which is what I think is the right approach.”


Among the council members expressing an opinion Tuesday, following that process did not seem to be the prevailing sentiment.

“Let’s take that off the table,” said council member Martavius Jones. “We’d be looking at another year.”

Council member Worth Morgan, however, called for a political push to round up the necessary votes on the historical commission or in the legislature for a repeal of a law he said is “seemingly arbitrary, purposely difficult and unnecessarily time consuming.”

“What we choose to honor in our public places, what we choose to put on a pedestal in our public places does change,” Morgan said. “It should change. It’s past time that we relocate the statues to a more appropriate place.”

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