MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The debate over confederate monuments rages on more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, with supporters arguing their historical significance and opponents calling the statues constant reminders of racism.
“It just speaks again to the shadow which we live under here in Memphis, of Jim Crow, of slavery and of a lack of racial equality on our city,” said activist Tami Sawyer.
At the center of the debate is the statue of Confederate Lt. General and the first Grand Wizard of the KKK – Nathan Bedford Forrest – which sits in a park in the Medical District.
Another monument dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis towers over a park downtown.
“To have him in the center of our city, to have him in a very public park with words that say he was an honorable good gentleman speaks to some of the things we see where there’s opinions of black people not being as deserving,” Sawyer said.
“I was shocked by it, quite honestly,” said Scott Davis, a tourist visiting the city from Denver.
He admitted he was surprised to see a statue dedicated to Davis in such a prominent spot.
But he said he believes there’s a way to honor the past without disrespecting African-Americans.
“To airbrush that away, I don’t think is the right thing,” Davis said. “But also to have it thrown in people’s faces, to name a park after someone who was inherently representative of the racist past in our country is not right either.”
— Nina Harrelson (@NinaHarrelsonTV) June 18, 2017
Nearly two years ago, the Memphis City Council voted to remove the statue of Forrest, but that was stalled by state lawmakers and the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC).
Last month, Sawyer started a petition, calling once again for the removal of that statue and the one of Davis.
“If people want to study history, we’ve got books, we’ve got museums, we’ve got the internet,” she said. “The history of the Civil Rights fight of slavery, of the confederacy, is never going to go away. No one’s going to forget about the oppression that black people face, no one’s going to forget about slavery.”
WREG spoke with several people Sunday who say the statues should stay, but none wanted to speak on camera.
We also reached out to Lee Millar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but we haven’t heard back.
Once Sawyer reaches 1,500 signatures on her petition, she will turn it over to the THC.
There’s also a public meeting on the removal of the monuments Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Bruce Elementary School.