When Dylann Roof opened fire on the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina hoping to start a race war, he didn’t exactly succeed. But he did manage to start a race throughout the South to remove Confederate statues, the latest of which came down under cover of darkness in Memphis last night. A 113-year-old statue of Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest was taken down in Health Sciences Park while Memphis Park crews removed a Civil Rights-era statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.
The removal of the statues was precipitated by the sale of the park lands to Memphis Greenspace, a nonprofit that was recently founded to renovate some of Memphis’ public spaces. But there was also a two-year decision making process within Memphis, which culminated in a unanimous vote by the Memphis City Council Wednesday night. Hours later, the cranes rolled up and the statues came down in this footage.
Despite the last-minute nature of the event, crowds appeared and cheered as the statues were removed. Some started singing the R&B classic “Hit the Road Jack” by Percy Mayfield. “History is being made in Memphis tonight,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum. Our community wants to reserve places of reverence for those that we honor.”
However, the decision to take down the statues sparked controversy — not just because of the usual debate over what these Confederate statues signify, but because Nathan Bedford Forest is actually buried underneath where his statue stood. Greenspace intends to leave the grave intact, but some opponents argue that removing the statue amounts to desecration.
Not only that, opponents point out that, essentially, Memphis Greenspaces was founded as a workaround to the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. The parks were sold on the cheap for just $1,000 apiece. “It is a deliberate attempt to avoid the state law and the city is breaking the law,” Lee Millar with Sons of the Confederate Veterans told CNN. If so, perhaps one might argue that the city of Memphis acted in the spirit of Martin Luther King, who once wrote, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”