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VOL. 133 | NO. 181 | Wednesday, September 12, 2018

City Balks at Forrest Descendants’ Proposed $30M Settlement

Special to The Daily News

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The city of Memphis is balking at a $30 million settlement demand by descendants of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Sons of Confederate Veterans in connection with the removal of the Confederate general’s statue from Health Sciences Park.

Crews removed the statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in December. (Daily News file/Houston Cofield)

Memphis sold two parks to nonprofit organization Memphis Greenspace Inc. in late 2017, leading to immediate removal of the Forrest statue and two other Confederate statues.

“It seems the Sons of Confederate Veterans want to have it both ways. They went to court to broaden the stay prohibiting Greenspace from entertaining any offers or proposals to sell the statues,” city spokeswoman Ursula Madden said in a statement. “SCV got what it wanted, then turned around and made an outlandish demand and proposal to Greenspace and the city of Memphis.”

Madden said the SCV could have had the statues months ago if the matter was “really about history and heritage.” Instead, the organization is trying to use the people’s “good will” for financial gain, she said.

Memphis Greenspace CEO Van Turner said it seems “counterintuitive” to pay the Forrest family such an “excessive amount” if this matter is really about preserving history. He pointed out his organization has been offering to move the monuments to a Civil War-related location from the outset, such as Shiloh National Battlefield or the Nathan Bedford Forrest childhood home in Middle Tennessee.

“That’s absolutely off the table,” Turner said of the settlement demand. Still, he hopes to resolve the matter.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled in May that the city of Memphis acted legally when it sold Health Sciences Park and Memphis Park to Memphis Greenspace for $1,000 each. The organization had the monuments of Forrest, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate Capt. Harvey Mathes removed, but the sale or transfer of the monuments was put on hold pending an appeal.

Attorneys for the Forrest descendants, who also have worked with the SCV, wrote a letter Aug. 30 asking the city to pay $5.6 million to relocate the graves of Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann, the pedestal where his equestrian statue stood, the base, the plaza and all commemorative markers related to the Forrest family and have them “reconstituted in another location possibly outside of Shelby County, and certainly outside of the city of Memphis.”

The family also is demanding $25 million to resolve all issues related to litigation before the Tennessee Historical Commission, the Tennessee Court of Appeals and Davidson County Chancery Court.

Ultimately, the letter states, Health Sciences Park “would be devoid of all appurtenances related to the May 16, 1905 dedication. The final place for reconstituting the graves of General Forrest and his wife, as well as all related items, will be chosen by the plaintiff – the Forrest descendants.”

The Forrest descendants also want clear and free title of all items removed from the parks related to Forrest, including a cenotaph and historical marker for Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest III, who was killed in World War II.

The settlement amount would cover all costs of the SCV Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215, which was expected to send a letter setting demands, according to the letter.

The letter notes the SCV would temporarily withhold a petition against Memphis and Greenspace for grave desecration and trespassing in connection with the equestrian statue removal, which it considers the headstone of the grave.

The chancellor recently unsealed the attorneys’ letter and other court documents.

In response to the Forrest family’s letter, Memphis attorneys said the financial demand was a “veiled attempt” to get the city to violate the terms of the chancellor’s order putting the matter on hold.

The city further contends the Forrest descendants are not parties to the case and have no standing in the matter. It notes the SCB has claimed to be the rightful order of the Forrest statue throughout the legal proceedings.

The attempt to obtain money from Memphis and Greenspace by offering not to file trespassing and desecration charges was “simply a threat of a criminal complaint to obtain an advantage in a prospective civil matter for alleged damages,” which is a violation of state law, the city’s response states.

PROPERTY SALES 100 375 3,773
MORTGAGES 63 202 2,481
BUILDING PERMITS 392 651 8,607
BANKRUPTCIES 38 117 2,021