VOL. 10 | NO. 53 | Saturday, December 30, 2017
Editorial: Though Statues are Down, Work is Just Beginning
They may be the most famous pedestals in Memphis – the ones where the horseback image of Nathan Bedford Forrest stood for 113 years and the relatively slender pinnacle where Jefferson Davis stood for a mere 53 years.
Since the removal of the city’s two most iconic monuments to the Confederacy five days before Christmas within two hours of each other, Memphians and tourists alike have stopped by to see what their absence looks like.
Some have even taken selfies with the pedestals in the background.
This has been a long time coming. And that is part of what some of us see where the monuments used to be – the passage of time and tumult and racist fairy tales defended long past their worth.
Soon, state lawmakers will take a closer look at the city’s actions to determine if they were legal.
But the monuments to the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and the only president of the Confederate States of America – two institutions more directly committed to oppression through slavery than any others in American history – are down. And putting them back will be much more difficult than it was to keep them up with a byzantine set of rules, regulations and procedures that attorney Allan Wade, legal counsel for the city, termed a “Confederate hell.”
The next step should be putting the parks’ past further behind us by developing and implementing plans for the future.
As quickly as possible, Memphis Greenspace, the nonprofit that bought the two parks from the city for $1,000 each, should begin the true “liberation” of these spaces through new uses and purposes that speak to our lives together in Memphis.
Make no mistake: Working quickly doesn’t mean working haphazardly. Take the time necessary to come up with a comprehensive plan to activate both parks. But avoid getting mired in so much talking and planning that action is delayed indefinitely.
We cannot allow that to happen to parks that have so much life and potential around them.
Memphis Park, where Davis’ statue stood, already plays a central role in the Fourth Bluff effort, which stretches south to the Cossitt Library and west to the parkland below on the other side of Riverside Drive.
And Health Sciences Park, where the Forrest statue stood, is the epicenter of an ongoing effort to link up the different parts of the Memphis Medical District.
“Liberation” is the term county commission Van Turner, the head of the nonprofit, used the morning after the statues came down to describe what has happened to the two parks.
There should be room in that liberation to bring together those who fought for the same general goal of removing the statues, but who had vastly different ideas about the timing and process, in hopes of finding some kind of common ground going forward.
Let it come with ideas and plans that point toward the coming spring and a new start for these places that once divided us.