VOL. 132 | NO. 204 | Friday, October 13, 2017
Historical Commission Grants City November Hearing on Forrest Statue
By Bill Dries
A group of 60 protesters staged a "die-in" in FedExForum Plaza Friday in the latest call for the removal of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forest. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
The Tennessee Historical Commission agreed Friday, Oct. 13, to send the city's request to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park to an administrative law judge for a hearing next month.
The commission set the November hearing date after hearing from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland Friday in Athens, Tennessee. Initially, the commission’s chairman and its attorney said the commission would not hear the city’s request and that the earliest the commission could even hear such a request would be its next regularly scheduled meeting in February.
The commission denied on Friday another petition from the city seeking an immediate decision by the historical commission to grant a waiver for the city to remove the statue of the Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard.
“Sure I’m disappointed the first petition was denied, but I’m happy the second one was set for a hearing in November,” Strickland tweeted after the meeting. “Today’s action allows us to keep our goal toward removal of statues by next spring.”
In a statement later, Strickland said, “The petition will now be heard before an administrative law judge and we expect this matter to be successfully resolved by the end of November.”
The specific issue before the administrative law judge will be whether the city needs a waiver to remove the statue under the 2013 state law that protects such monuments. The state also passed a 2016 law that closed some loopholes in the earlier version but by then the Memphis City Council had voted to go ahead with the removal.
The city contends a waiver is not necessary to remove the statue.
About 60 protesters staged a “die-in” outside FedExForum Friday evening to call for the immediate removal by the city of the Forrest statue as well a statue of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis in Memphis Park.
“This is a city where almost 70 percent of the residents identify as descendants of slaves. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave owner. He made his fortune off of the sale of black lives,” said Tami Sawyer, leader of the Take Them Down 901 effort, who has been critical of Strickland for moving too slowly. “We tell our city, have bold and courageous leadership. Be brave. Listen to the people and take them down.”
The protest, before the start of the Memphis Grizzlies-New Orleans Pelicans game at the forum included a man in Confederate garb portraying Forrest .
“They put that statue up just to show the Negroes who is boss in this town – the white man, of course,” he told the crowd. He was then covered in a black cloth as the crowd chanted “Take Them Down 901.”
In his remarks to the historical commission, Strickland called the statue of Forrest “a monument to Jim Crow.” And he cited newspaper accounts from the 1905 dedication of the statue as proof of the intent.
“Today we call that sentiment what it is: white supremacy. And today we know that is a shameful part of our past,” he added. “Make no mistake: we have respected this process. Now we ask you to respect the will of Memphis.”