Councilman Calls for Local Control, Wants Confederate Monuments Removed

District 1's Bill Morrison challenges state law, says Memphians should have "right and power" over public monuments.

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District 1 Councilman Bill Morrison
  • District 1 Councilman Bill Morrison


Even as events, in the wake of Charlottesville, are forcing state and federal authorities to deal with the issue of Confederate monuments and the influence of hate groups, a move is act on the subject is developing in local government. District 1 City Councilman Bill Morrison issued the following statement on Wednesday:

The power to alter or remove local statues and monuments should be in the hands of local communities and leaders.

Those are the people who live with these monuments day in and day out.

Those are the people most affected by statues and monuments that have become symbols of hate, such as our monuments to Confederate figures Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Here in Tennessee, local communities and leaders no longer have the power to remove such monuments from our own local parks or public spaces.

That must change.

In recent days, we've seen the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Va., all of it centered on a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

We've heard some — but not enough — of our elected officials renounce and condemn that domestic terrorism committed in Virginia by white supremacists defending the statue.

President Trump, ever the Twitter wordsmith, was uncharacteristically equivocal as the events were unfolding in Charlottesville.

Monday, he condemned the hate groups. But two days later, he all but defended their actions.

We should remain hopeful that our state leadership demonstrates what true leadership is by confronting, denouncing and removing true symbols of hatred in our state.

That's why I am calling on Governor Bill Haslam to call a special session of the legislature to repeal the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016.

That's the law that requires two-thirds of the 29 members of the Tennessee Historical Commission to approve any changes in monuments to historical figures, no matter where they are or what they stand for.

The law states that "No statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, or plaque which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of a military conflict that is identified in a list of conflicts in which the U.S. has participated and is located on public property, may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed" without the state commission's approval.

The bill was co-sponsored by some of our own, including state Sen. Mark Norris, who is President Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship position in Tennessee. Another co-sponsor was state Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican candidate for governor.

The law is wrong and must be repealed. It doesn't protect our heritage. It only serves to protect memories of white supremacy and shrines for modern-day followers.

In 2013, I joined my fellow members of the Memphis City Council to change Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park, Confederate Park to Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park.

In 2015, my fellow Council members and I voted to remove from Health Sciences Park the statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest as well as the graves of him and his wife.

The 2016 law stopped those efforts. The state commission rejected the city's request to remove Forrest's statue.

The people and leaders of the City of Memphis should have the right and power to decide which monuments and statues will stand in our parks and public spaces.

All of us — Democrats, Republicans, Independents and others — must stand united in denouncing the evil and hatred spewed by white supremacists.


Bill Morrison represents District 1 on the Memphis City Council.


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