More than 4,500 people are asking the city of Memphis to remove two Confederate statues.
The group “Take Them Down 901″ wants the city to take down statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park and Jefferson Davis from Fourth Bluff Park. Organizer Tami Sawyer said her group has been circulating the petition among Memphis residents since June, well before the events in Charlottesville.
“We’ve been trying to get it down in our city. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” she said. “We stand in solidarity with Charlottesville and are saying, you know, ‘This can’t happen here,’ and these statues need to come down.”
The petition was delivered on Tuesday to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Heritage Commission. The mayor’s office said Strickland “wants to remove Confederate statues in the city of Memphis, but a state law requires that the Tennessee Historical Commission approve the moves.”
Barrier to removing statue
The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act requires a two-thirds vote by the Tennessee Historical Commission in order to remove a Confederate statue in the state. Sawyer said it’s important to remember that monuments erected in the post-Civil War era such as these were intended to be an affront to the end of slavery in the United States, and they continue to be a draw for hate groups.
“We’ve been saying that these are racist structures, from which people who have hatred for people of color draw strength,” she said. “The Sons of the Confederate Veterans had their national convention here, and they took five busloads to visit the statue.”
Sawyer said it’s important to prioritize removing the statues as the city prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 2018. Last week, state Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, filed a bill to allow the city of Memphis to make its own decisions regarding Confederate statues. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has spoken out in support of the legislation.