Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park
On Friday, the Tennessee Historical Commission denied Memphis City Council's application to relocate the statue and remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the slave-trade profiteer and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, from a tax-payer funded public park in the middle of a majority black city.
The city council voted to move the statue and remains of both Forrest and his wife in the aftermath of the Charleston, SC shooting that left nine parishioners dead after white supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Following the shooting, there was an increased national scrutiny over Confederate monuments and symbols in public spaces.
The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013 prevents cities or counties from relocating, removing, renaming, or otherwise disturbing war memorials on public properties, so the city council filed an application for a waiver that would allow the monument to be relocated to one of two suggested spaces.
The rejection was based on criteria adopted by the commission in 2015; the commission could have voted to change that criteria at Friday's meeting, but opted not to.
According to city council's attorney, Allan Wade, the waiver filed met the commission's criteria. Much of the criticism and what Wade deems "erroneous" claims regarding the requested waiver came from members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
I think the larger question is, 'What is the reason for the statue to be located here?'", said Wade. "The only connection (Forrest) has to the city of Memphis, is that he made millions and millions as a slave trader."
Memphis mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement today, "I’m disappointed with the Tennessee Historical Commission’s vote today. We’ll continue to explore options to carry out the statue’s removal, which I voted for as a member of the City Council.”
Presently, it is unclear what options exist for the continued pursuit of the statue's removal. The city council has the option to file for another waiver, but it is likely to be rejected again if no criteria changes are made.
As of press time, the Tennessee Historical Commission has not returned a Flyer request for comment.