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VOL. 132 | NO. 182 | Wednesday, September 13, 2017

More Than 150 Clergy Call for Removal of Forrest Statue

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has posted a letter from 153 local clergy members in the Memphis area backing the city’s call for a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission next month to allow the city to remove Confederate monuments from city parks.

“We are Memphis clergy white and black, young and old, Christian and Jew, transcending every political party,” reads the letter, posted Wednesday, Sept. 13, on Medium that specifically addresses removing the statue of Confederate General, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“By no means are we seeking to erase history. It is imperative that we understand history; the foundations of our society, of our country, and our faith traditions are built on that,” the letter adds. “But it is also important that we understand historical figures and events in their full context. It was not until 1905 — half a century after the Civil War and in the throes of the implementation of Jim Crow laws across the South — that the statue of Forrest was placed in a public square. This monument to Forrest belongs elsewhere, not in the center of our city’s hub. Beyond the historical inaccuracy and geographic irrelevancy of his monument, it does not represent who we are as people of faith.”

The letter concludes that the statue “does not convey the complete story of our city’s rich history and could better serve the pursuit of understanding and educating the public as well as future generations in a more historically appropriate site.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland with local clergy and other leaders he met with last month resulting in a letter released Wednesday by 153 local clergy calling for removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue. (Source: City of Memphis)

Among those signing the letter representing 87 congregations and institutions are: Rev. Steve Gaines, pastor Bellevue Baptist Church; Rev. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor New Sardis Baptist Church; Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel; Rev. Stephen Haynes of Rhodes College; Rev. Stephen R. Montgomery, pastor Idlewild Presbyterian Church and all three of the church’s Associate Pastors; Rev. James L. Netters, pastor Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and a former Memphis City Council member; Bishop Brandon B. Porter, pastor Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ; Rev. Reginald Porter Sr., pastor Metropolitan Baptist Church; Rev. Craig Strickland, pastor Hope Presbyterian Church; Rev. Deborah Smith, district superintendent for the Memphis conference of the United Methodist Church; Rev. Stacy L. Spencer, pastor New Direction Christian Church; Dean Andy Andrews of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and Bishop Henry Williamson, presiding bishop, first Episcopal District, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The letter comes after Strickland met with clergy last month to build support for the city’s request to the state body and explain how the city would go about removing the statue in Health Sciences Park if the waiver is granted.

The hearing is Oct. 13 and the letter from the pastors advocates one of several avenues being pursued by different groups to push for the removal of the monument.

The letter was made public the same week that Shelby County Commissioners approved a resolution backing the administration’s course of action as well as the Memphis City Council’s move toward an ordinance that calls for immediate removal of the Forrest monument as well as a statue of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis in another city park after Oct. 13 citing other legal grounds if the waiver is denied.

The ordinance was approved on the first of three readings by the council last week with third and final reading scheduled for early October, before the historical commission meets.

Strickland has said if the waiver is denied, the administration is prepared to file a lawsuit in Chancery Court to remove the statues.

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