Legal actions launched against removal of Confederate statutes in Memphis

The Sons of Confederate Veterans and descendants of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest have filed two legal actions against the City of Memphis over removal of Confederate statutes from two former city parks last month, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In one case, a petition filed with the Tennessee Historical Commission accuses the city and nonprofit Memphis Greenspace Inc. of violating “numerous” state laws on Dec. 20, when Greenspace removed the Forrest statue from its pedestal atop his and his wife’s graves in Health Sciences Park, and statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and war correspondent and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes from Fourth Bluff Park.

The petition asks the commission to rule that the city and Greenspace violated the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which requires commission approval prior to removal of monuments from public property; laws against misconduct by elected officials; and laws prohibiting the desecration of gravesites.

“You can’t disturb graves,” said Sons’ attorney Doug Jones. “They knew that but conspired to rip it apart despite knowing state law. They ripped the top off the grave. They damaged that, and they can’t deny that.”

The city has maintained that the grave markers inscribed with the names of the Forrests remain at the base of the pedestal and that the statue wasn’t the headstone.

‚ĶSeparately, the Sons’ Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215 filed a lawsuit Thursday in Chancery Court in Davidson County seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent the city or the nonprofit from selling or harming the stowed statues.

If granted, the restraining order and injunction would require court approval for any further actions related to the statues; their former homes, Health Sciences and Fourth Bluff parks; or the graves of the Forrests.

The petition claims city officials “devised a scheme” to create Greenspace, a “sham nonprofit,” to get around or violate the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which requires the commission to approve changes to historical monuments on public property.

After the commission rejected the city’s application for a waiver to remove the Forrest statue in October, the city sold the parks to Greenspace for $1,000 each without prior public notice of the sale, making the parks private property. Anticipating the ploy, the Memphis City Council relaxed requirements on the sale of public property to nonprofits.

Almost immediately after the unexpected sale on Dec. 20, Greenspace took down the statues, which were temporarily stored in police facilities for protection. The petition also says the statues suffered “substantial damage” during their transfer.

“The transfers alluding to hereinabove are a sham and were solely for the purposes of evading the limitations of the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, and are a fraud upon the citizens of Memphis and your petitioners,” the petition reads.

The petitioners also accused city officials, Greenspace officers and “unnamed officials with the state” of criminal conspiracy for “concerted actions, agreements and communications” about how to violate state laws.

The petitioners included Forrest descendants listed in the petition were Walter Law Jr., Sidney Law, Brooks Bradley, Thoms Jesse Bradley III and Kevin Bradly, the “closest living relatives” of Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest.

Note: One lawsuit filed earlier in the year — filed by the city and contending that Memphis does not need Tennessee Historical Commission approval to remove the statutes — has been dismissed with a judge ruling, basically, that it’s been outdated by the Memphis maneuver. The CA’s story is HERE.

 

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