MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Greenspace, Inc., the company that purchased Memphis Park and Health Sciences Park, addressed the removal of Confederate statues on Thursday morning.
The city sold the parks for $1,000 each Wednesday. Immediately after, the process began to remove the statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis in the parks.
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner is the president of Memphis Greenspace, Inc. He said the organization has raised money from anonymous donors to remove the statues and to operate the park going forward.
Turner said Memphis Greenspace liberated the City of Memphis by removing the statues--something he believes was overdue.
"We are standing at the threshold of a new Memphis," Turner said.
Turner said Memphis Greenspace formed about a month ago and has a pending 501(c)3 status with the state of Tennessee.
Turner said he expects more parks to be sold to them in the future. Turner said the non-profit's goal is to upgrade the parks in Memphis and clean them up. The Confederate statues were just one of the company's goals. Turner said, the company has also able secured a new playground in Hickory Hill to upgrade.
As for the statues, Turner said they are being held at an undisclosed location. The hope is that they will find a new owner for the statues--perhaps a Civil War museum--in the future, where they can be displayed with context.
Sons of Confederate Veterans have been vocal about their displeasure with the removal of the statues. They believe the deal done by the City of Memphis was illegal.
Lee Millar said the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to take action against the removal.
"This is not a shady deal," Turner said. "This is a legal deal."
Turner said because Memphis Greenspace is a private, non-profit organization, the deal was legal.
Critics of removing the statues often cite the fact that the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue housed the remains of the Confederate leader. Those critics say removing the statues is the same as desecrating a grave.
Turner said Memphis Greenspace is aware and sympathetic to those concerns. He said the company does not intend to disrespect or desecrate Forrest's remains. He said the company is working with Forrest's family and Elmwood Cemetery to move the remains back to where they were originally.
The Forrest family has deep roots in Elmwood Cemetery with several family members being buried there. In fact, Forrest was originally buried at Elmwood before his body was moved to Health Sciences Park.
"The bodies came from Elmwood Cemetery and Elmwood Cemetery has initiated on several occasions that they're willing to receive the bodies back," Turner said.
Kim Bearden, the executive director at Elmwood Cemetery, said she hasn't been contacted about Forrest's return, but she said it would be a fairly simple process.
"I would just need contact from some person who can give me permission to enter the body here at Elmwood," she said.
Millar said Forrest should remain at Health Sciences Park because it used to be named Forrest Park--after Nathan Bedford Forrest.
"Had Forest Park existed at that time, I'm sure he would have chosen to be buried in Forest Park because he was a charismatic leader, always an inspiration to his men, to the South, and Memphis," he said.
Turner was asked about the heavy police presence surrounding the statues during removal. He said Memphis Police Department was involved because it was a public issue done in the middle of the city, and the city obliged when they asked for help. Moving forward, Turner said they plan to hire a private security team.
Turner said the cost of the removal is unknown at this time, but Memphis Greenspace is still raising funds.
Overall, Turner said the statues were removed to return peace to the parks. He said people can now roam the parks without feeling the guilt of the Confederate monuments weighing upon them.
"This is a great burden that has been lifted off the city," Turner said.
Turner said the city can now focus on issues such as poverty and education now that the statues have become a "non-issue."