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Where Do Confederate Monuments Go After They Come Down? : NPR

Where Do Confederate Monuments Go After They Come Down? : NPR

Protesters try and cowl a statue of Ku Klux Klan chief Nathan Bedford Forrest at Well being Sciences Park in Memphis, Tenn., in August 2017. The statue was eliminated in December.

Andrea Morales


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Andrea Morales

Protesters try and cowl a statue of Ku Klux Klan chief Nathan Bedford Forrest at Well being Sciences Park in Memphis, Tenn., in August 2017. The statue was eliminated in December.

Andrea Morales

Van Turner has a secret: He is aware of the whereabouts of the controversial Confederate statues eliminated final yr from two parks in Memphis, Tenn.

“They have to be kept in a secretive location,” stated Turner on a current afternoon, standing in a park overlooking the Mississippi River the place one of many statues — of Confederate President Jefferson Davis — as soon as stood. “For fear of someone trying to go in and get them.”

Turner, a Shelby County commissioner, has been hiding the Jefferson Davis statue because it got here down in December, together with a statue of Confederate Gen. and slave dealer Nathan Bedford Forrest and a bust of Confederate Capt. Harvey Mathes.

They’re among the many greater than 45 Confederate monuments which have come down in a minimum of 27 cities throughout the nation since final summer time, when white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removing of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Within the aftermath, counterprotester Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed. The violence amplified requires the removing of such monuments and spurred an ongoing debate over whether or not tributes to the Confederacy have a spot in public areas.

Amid that debate, cities like Memphis at the moment are coping with a unique drawback: what to do with the controversial statues as soon as they’re faraway from public areas. In lots of instances, they continue to be hidden in storage whereas municipalities determine their destiny.

Protesters and the police wrestle in August 2017 after officers tore down banners that demonstrators tried to hold on a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis.

Andrea Morales


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Andrea Morales

Protesters and the police wrestle in August 2017 after officers tore down banners that demonstrators tried to hold on a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis.

Andrea Morales

It isn’t simply Memphis. New Orleans continues to be storing 4 Confederate monuments greater than a yr after they have been taken down. Mayor LaToya Cantrell has but to announce a plan for relocation.

The town of Baltimore can also be protecting 4 monuments, which got here down final August, in a secret location whereas a metropolis activity pressure decides what to do with them.

The state of affairs is especially difficult in Memphis, the place the majority-black metropolis needed to resort to an intricate authorized loophole to take away the statues within the first place.

In Tennessee, it is unlawful for cities to take away historic monuments with out approval from the state. Six different states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — have comparable legal guidelines. Memphis petitioned the state for a waiver however was denied. So Mayor Jim Strickland, a Democrat and Memphis’ first white mayor in 24 years, discovered a workaround.

“It prohibits government from doing it, but it doesn’t prohibit a private person from doing it, on private property,” says Strickland, who took workplace in 2016. Protests towards the statues had been rising all through the summer time of 2017, and he wanted to behave. “We needed to find a way to do it legally.”

On Dec. 20, 2017, Memphis allowed the sale of Well being Sciences Park to a brand new nonprofit, which then eliminated the statue of Forrest. The statue, one other one and a bust are being held in a secret location.

Andrea Morales


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Andrea Morales

On Dec. 20, 2017, Memphis allowed the sale of Well being Sciences Park to a brand new nonprofit, which then eliminated the statue of Forrest. The statue, one other one and a bust are being held in a secret location.

Andrea Morales

The town’s lawyer pitched an concept to Turner, the native county commissioner: Turner would create a nonprofit, the town would promote the 2 parks to the nonprofit — for $1,000 every — and the nonprofit would take away the statues.

It was a dangerous gambit.

“You would possibly get death threats,” Turner says, recalling his ideas on the time. “Are you willing to endure this, knowing that you are a husband and a father? And I said yes.”

The plan labored. On Dec. 20, the Memphis Metropolis Council accepted the sale to Turner’s new nonprofit, Memphis Greenspace. That very same night time, he introduced in cranes and the statues got here down.

Turner wasn’t planning to carry on to the statues indefinitely. He had imagined a museum would take them. Or perhaps a Confederate cemetery or a historic battlefield.

As an alternative, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nationwide group that fights to protect Confederate historical past, sued the nonprofit and the town, accusing them of violating state regulation.

A decrease courtroom dominated in favor of Memphis and the nonprofit. The go well with is now with the Tennessee Courtroom of Appeals, and Turner is forbidden from shifting the statues till the proceedings are over.

However even with out the authorized morass, it is unclear who can be prepared to take the three Confederate monuments. Museums, which could appear to be the apparent selection, are sometimes hesitant to take them on.

“Truth is, we absolutely could not take them,” says Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil Warfare Museum in Richmond, Va. Coleman typically receives calls from cities hoping to seek out houses for his or her Confederate monuments.

“The biggest reason, I’d say, that museums aren’t able to accept them is that they simply can’t afford to take care of them,” says Coleman.

Highschool college students applaud a classmate who spoke throughout a June 2017 organizing assembly for #TakeEmDown901, which shaped in Memphis to protest the town’s Confederate statues.

Andrea Morales


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Andrea Morales

Most of the statues have been constructed for giant public boards, creating logistical challenges for museums. A outstanding statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, for instance, is greater than 60 ft tall, together with its pedestal.

“[Most] museums are not equipped … to not only take and place them, but to provide the kind of care and conservation required to ensure that they are around for perpetuity,” says Coleman.

That is not the one problem.

“Sometimes when you take on artifacts or things that will skew one’s mission and/or collection direction and resources toward something that you know strays from its strategic work, that’s problematic,” Coleman says.

In 2016, a historical past museum in Gainesville, Fla., refused to take a Confederate statue from the county authorities, citing the excessive prices of making a completely new exhibit. The Smithsonian has additionally stated that it doesn’t settle for monuments — Confederate or in any other case — into its assortment.

Even when a museum might accommodate the prices and logistics, contextualizing Confederate statues for guests is a problem for curators, contemplating how racially and politically charged the objects nonetheless are.

Lee Millar of the native Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter reads a proclamation declaring July 13 “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” at a celebration honoring the Confederate basic.

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Lee Millar of the native Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter reads a proclamation declaring July 13 “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” at a celebration honoring the Confederate basic.

Andrea Morales for NPR

A second of prayer is held through the celebration marking the 197th anniversary of Nathan Beford Forrest’s birthday, in July at Davies Manor Plantation in Bartlett, Tenn.

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A second of prayer is held in the course of the celebration marking the 197th anniversary of Nathan Beford Forrest’s birthday, in July at Davies Manor Plantation in Bartlett, Tenn.

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On the Forrest celebration, Gary Elam holds a photograph of his great-great-grandfather, Maj. Oliver Buckley Farris, who fought within the Confederate military.

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On the Forrest celebration, Gary Elam holds a photograph of his great-great-grandfather, Maj. Oliver Buckley Farris, who fought within the Confederate military.

Andrea Morales for NPR

“They say things about gender, they say things about race, they say things about militarism that would take more than a plaque to sanitize,” says Ben Wright of the Briscoe Middle for American Historical past on the College of Texas, Austin.

Regardless of these challenges, Wright and his group consider they’ve found out one strategy to the curatorial dilemmas: focus particularly on the time interval during which the Confederate statue was created.

Individuals arrive at Davies Manor Plantation for the occasion celebrating Forrest, a Confederate common whose ties to Memphis embrace a profitable slave-trading enterprise there.

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Individuals arrive at Davies Manor Plantation for the occasion celebrating Forrest, a Confederate basic whose ties to Memphis embrace a profitable slave-trading enterprise there.

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United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans place wreaths to honor Forrest.

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United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans place wreaths to honor Forrest.

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Civil Struggle re-enactors representing members of the Confederate military’s ninth Mississippi and 51st Tennessee infantries ship a musket salute.

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Civil Warfare re-enactors representing members of the Confederate military’s ninth Mississippi and 51st Tennessee infantries ship a musket salute.

Andrea Morales for NPR

Final yr, the Briscoe Middle designed an exhibit that includes a statue of Jefferson Davis that when stood on campus. As an alternative of highlighting Davis’ position within the Civil Warfare, it tells the story of the statue’s creation, placement and the next controversy on campus.

“It’s a history of the statue, which touches on race relations, it touches on the way the monuments were contested at the time,” says Wright, who curated the exhibit. On this case, it was the 1920s, on the peak of Jim Crow legal guidelines. “What we did by concentrating on the statue and the rich archival sources around the statues, we were able to create a space where all those things get talked about.”

For many who fought to take away the statues, the query of what to do with them is an easy one to reply.

“I believe that Confederate statues should be disposed of,” says Tami Sawyer, the founding father of #TakeEmDown901, the group that shaped in Memphis to protest the town’s Confederate monuments. “You don’t need oppressive structures in museums.”

One concept being floated as a potential answer is to return the statues to the Confederate organizations that, in lots of instances, paid for them within the first place. (Across the flip of the 20th century, as Confederate veterans started to die in bigger numbers, these teams erected lots of of monuments throughout the South.)

Final yr, the United Daughters of the Confederacy accepted the return of one in every of its statues — the one the native museum in Gainesville, Fla., refused — and positioned it in a personal cemetery close by. Nevertheless it’s unclear whether or not the group, which has hundreds of members nationwide, has an organizational coverage about accepting returned statues. (NPR reached out a number of occasions to the group for remark however didn’t obtain a reply.)

In Memphis, the Sons of Confederate Veterans — which helped pay for the town’s two outstanding statues — needs extra than simply the return of the monuments.

“The statues go back up, of course,” says Lee Millar, regional spokesman for the group, which is suing each Memphis and Turner for eradicating the statues.

“We’ll fight as long as it takes, all the way to the end. Because the solution is to put the statues back up,” Millar says.

Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans arrive to put wreaths at Well being Sciences Park, the place the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest stood in Memphis.

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Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans arrive to put wreaths at Well being Sciences Park, the place the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest stood in Memphis.

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A fenced-off pedestal at Well being Sciences Park in Memphis is all that’s left of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, which is in a secret location pending a courtroom case.

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A fenced-off pedestal at Well being Sciences Park in Memphis is all that’s left of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, which is in a secret location pending a courtroom case.

Andrea Morales for NPR

Opponents of the Forrest statue level out that the Confederate basic was a slave dealer who, in response to the Mississippi Civil Rights Venture, was additionally an instrumental determine within the early years of the Ku Klux Klan.

However for Millar, who says he’s a distant relative of Forrest, the statues need to be within the public sphere as a result of they have been meant to honor army service.

“The citizens back then were erecting these statues to those veterans,” says Millar, who lives in Collierville, a suburb of Memphis. “It had nothing to do with race, nothing to do with slavery.”

In mid-July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans threw its annual birthday celebration for Forrest, at Davies Manor Plantation in Bartlett, Tenn., simply outdoors of Memphis.

Confederate soldier re-enactors marched in formation and fired off a musket salute to honor the overall. At a folding desk in a nook of the yard, Millar collected donations in a big water jug with the label “Save Our Parks” to assist with the authorized prices of the lawsuit.

Seven months after the Forrest statue got here down, attendees have been nonetheless indignant.

“I think it’s deplorable,” stated Paul Alford, an group member from Memphis. “The city council all needs to go to jail.”

Others, like Gary Elam of close by Potts Camp, Miss., are preventing with their wallets.

“Since they took the statues down on Dec. 20 of last year, I have not spent one red cent in Memphis,” stated Elam. “I’m not going to put any money in the coffers as long as they’re acting the way they’re acting.”

Elam isn’t alone. In April, the Tennessee legislature stripped $250,000 earmarked for Memphis from the state price range, with Republican lawmakers citing the statue removals as the rationale for the vote.

However Mayor Strickland is not nervous. “We’ll be able to handle it,” he says. “We knew that there would be some pushback.”

And Strickland stands by the choice to take the town’s Confederate monuments off public property.

“If you go to Germany, there is no statue of Adolf Hitler. But you certainly learn about Adolf Hitler. And people ought to have in their history textbooks and in museums a history of Nathan Bedford Forrest,” Strickland says. “But statues are for honoring people. And Memphis of the 21st century does not want to honor that individual.”

The saga is way from over. The lawsuit towards Memphis and the nonprofit that eliminated the statues is predicted to stretch on for the remainder of the yr.

Within the meantime, the tedious duties of proudly owning leisure parks — mowing the grass, cleansing the sidewalks, maintaining the lights on, paying for insurance coverage — are starting so as to add up for Van Turner, the statues’ reluctant proprietor. He estimates it’ll value him at the very least $30,000 this yr. And, as he feared, his household has acquired dying threats.

Nonetheless, Turner believes that when the litigation is over, he’ll have the ability to discover the statues a brand new residence.

“I think there will be more than one group interested,” he says. “This is still American history.”

Jolie Myers edited and Noah Caldwell and Melissa Grey produced the audio tales. Maureen Pao edited the Net model of the story.