TN Historical Commission denies Memphis' request to remove Confederate statues

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and other Memphians failed to convince Tennessee Historical Commission to allow the city to remove its Confederate monuments.

Strickland, as well as local activists, spoke before the Tennessee Historical Commission during its meeting Friday. THC has a final say on the statues' future, and the group voted to deny the city's waiver.

THC member Pastor Keith Norman said the vote only serves to prolong the process.

"This could go many months into the future," Norman said. "We need to do the right thing. We should have given local authority to the City of Memphis."

After voting down Memphis' waiver, THC voted in favor of a second petition which will allow Memphis' arguments to be heard by a judge in November.

The petition states that the Forrest statue is not a war memorial. Therefore, THC should not have a say on whether it is taken down.

This argument will be heard by a judge in November. If the judge agrees with Memphis, THC will hold a special meeting at which Memphis could win the right to remove the statues.

Strickland said that while he is disappointed in the denial, he is happy with the progress his team is making and hopes the November hearing will go their way.

Strickland said Memphis is united on the removal of the statues. He said he has support from Republicans and Democrats, including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Memphis City Council, Shelby County Commission, and Governor Bill Haslam.

"We must understand and come to terms with why this statue exists," Strickland said.

Strickland discussed the past of the statue, which he said was placed 40 years after the Civil War during the height of Jim Crow laws.

Strickland noted 12 lynchings in 13 years that occurred in Memphis during Jim Crow laws and said the statue is representative of that time.

Strickland said they do not want to destroy the statue--rather, they want it to be placed where it can be displayed with accurate context of what Strickland called "a shameful part of our history."

Councilman Worth Morgan spoke briefly in agreement with Strickland.

Doug Jones, an attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans then spoke in opposition of Strickland. He said at a previous commission when the waiver was denied, City of Memphis chose not to participate.

Jones said in 2009, the city filed an application to protect the monument, and the city "bragged" on the statue. He said in 2011, the city then asked for a new marker outside the statue.

He said the city has referred to the area as a graveyard and should be protected as so.

Steven Stout, a member of Tennessee Department of Environmental and Conservation said the commission needs to adopt rules before making a final decision.

Stout said City of Memphis' waiver claim does not fit an emergency vote, and therefore should be waited until rules are in place.

When asked about the timeline of the rules to be in effect, Stout said a rule must be filed before a 90-day waiting period. That makes the rules possible to be in place by a February meeting. Then those will be reviewed by the government operations committee.

Upon hearing this, Pastor Keith Norman asked Stout if this means it would be possible that another six months could go by before a vote on the waiver is heard, and Stout said, 'Yes,' but was unsure if that would happen--it is out of his hands.

State officials said, in their opinion, if THC voted on the city's waivers Friday, the decision would be void and not legal.

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