Take them down now!

Montee Lopez, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 8/17/2017, 12:48 p.m.
Activists call for immediate removal of Confederate statues.
Black Lives Matter activist Tami Sawyer and others linked by #TakeEmDown901 detail the demands directed to Mayor Jim Strickland on Wednesday. (Photo: Montee Lopez)

Under the banner of #TakeEmDown901, 30-plus local activists walked inside Memphis City Hall on Wednesday to deliver a message to Mayor Jim Strickland – take the statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis down now.

“We are standing with Charlottesville, we are standing with cities across the country that have finally taken action to take down the white supremacist structures that represent the Confederacy,” Tami Sawyer said.

The #TakeEmdown901 demand is threefold: remove the statues of Forrest and Davis by any means necessary; create a community engagement plan to select what should represent Memphis in the vacant spaces; enact policy banning the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and any white supremacist groups from receiving support from the city.

Forrest, a Confederate general during the Civil War and a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan, is depicted in a monument erected in Health Sciences Park (formerly Nathan Bedford Forrest Park) in Midtown. The statue of Davis, the President of the Confederate States, sits on the Fourth Bluff on Front Street Downtown.

The Memphis City Council has voted to move the Forrest statue but state law prohibits any such removal without a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission. The City of Memphis has sought a waiver fro the Forrest statue removal and a waiver request is being drafted for the Davis.

Hearings would following the granting of waivers and local activists are not willing to wait for what could be a lengthy process to run its course.

“We do not have three months, we do not have three years to wait in court for these structures to come down,” Sawyer said, noting that the 50th commemoration of the assassination Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looms.

In a social media post on Monday, Sawyer said, “If these statues stand on April 4, 2018, the city government is hypocritical and shameless. Don’t profit off Martin Luther King and continue operating with this offensive definition of All Deliberate Speed with our removal efforts.”

A representative from the city accepted the group’s demands on Wednesday.

Later, Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden issued a statement saying that while they appreciate Memphians’ suggestions and joining the cause, the city “will not break the law. We will not direct city employees to break the law. …

“There is a reason the people who want the mayor to break the law do not remove the statue themselves. Because it’s against the law and they would be arrested.”

Referring to the #TakeEmDown901 demands, Sawyer said when there is a will, there is a way, adding that if Strickland wanted the statues taken down, they would come down.

“Remove them now, be sued later,” Sawyer said.