VOL. 132 | NO. 198 | Thursday, October 5, 2017
Harris Talks ‘Radical’ Action on Confederate Monuments to Build Pressure
By Bill Dries
City Council attorney Allan Wade says Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration and the council are not “in different places” when it comes to removing Confederate monuments from city parks.
Wade told the leader of recent protests seeking the immediate removal of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues that Strickland is not “the enemy.” The Tennessee Legislature is, he told Tami Sawyer of Take Them Down 901.
Sawyer said the administration should include her effort, which has added political pressure and urgency, to the general effort.
Wade, Sawyer, city chief legal officer Bruce McMullen and state Sen. Lee Harris participated in a forum Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law on the monuments controversy. The forum was sponsored by the law school and the Black Law Students Association.
State Sen. Lee Harris says Memphis should consider actions that put pressure on the General Assembly to act on allowing monuments to be removed. (Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
McMullen said the city administration is committed to pursuing the legal removal of the monuments, starting with that of Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard “all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court.”
But he reiterated that Strickland will not order city employees to break the law.
During the discussion, Harris, a former city council member and a law school professor, said Strickland should “dial down” talk of the consequences for taking such an action.
And he talked about what may be beyond the Tennessee Historical Commission meeting next week when Strickland will appeal for a waiver to the state law forbidding the removal of the statues.
“We could put a fence around the park tomorrow. I’m not saying we should do it tomorrow because we are not there yet. We have a process to follow,” he said of Health Sciences Park where Forrest’s statue is. “We are probably a long way from there to be honest. But at some point down the line, maybe we close down the park. That is a national news story. … That will put so much pressure on the governor and the Tennessee General Assembly.”
Or Harris said a “less radical” response might be letting the grass grow.
“Next spring, stop cutting the grass. If it rises to six feet tall, that is another national news story,” he said. “The city of Memphis refuses to cut the grass at its park because it doesn’t have control over that.”
Meanwhile, Memphis City Council members delayed a third and final vote Tuesday on the ordinance that would direct the city administration to remove the Confederate monuments if the state Historical Commission doesn’t allow it later this month.
The ordinance will be voted on at the Oct. 17 council session, days after the historical commission meets on Oct. 13.
Wade said the delay by the council is “contemplating additional legal action” over the monuments and gives the city the chance to explore “every possible avenue.”