This article first appeared on MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.
People do exactly what they want to do. I’m fond of saying that and it’s particularly true as the city of Memphis wrestles with how to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues/tributes to white supremacy.
Neither have any place in any publicly funded space and especially not in a city that’s 63 percent black. Their presence is an embarrassment and reveals the hypocrisy of a city trying to manage its public image as the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination nears.
On Monday, Bruce McMullen, chief legal officer for the city of Memphis, told reporters that the city will again ask the Tennessee Historical Commission for a waiver so that it can take the monuments down. The commission meets next in October and McMullen warned that the process could take a “considerable amount of time.”
It doesn’t have to take time, though. The repercussions of acting now might be severe, but there have always been consequences in pursuit of justice. (The family of Heather Heyer, who was killed this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, allegedly by a white supremacist, knows this all too well.)
So here are some what ifs:
- What if the statue of Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest were felled somehow (lightning, act of God, whatever) and the city declined to replace them?
- What if the statues were removed but the police department declined to investigate and the district attorney refused to bring charges against those who assisted in their removal?
- What if the city of Memphis directed a construction crew to remove the statues and dared the state to do something?
- What if the city sold the parks to a nonprofit for $1, the nonprofit removed the statues and then sold the parks back to the city for $2? The city would actually make money.
Others have suggested blocking the statues from public view, perhaps with an art installation. (I wrote about just such an art installation in 2009, created by University of Memphis art professor Richard Lou.)
You cannot convince me that there’s no way to get those statues down by the end of the month. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
What ideas do you have to get the monuments removed now? Hit me up at Wendi C. Thomas or on Twitter at @wendi_c_thomas and use #TakeEmDown.