In one of the many reactions to the murders in the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting last week, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton announced Thursday that he wants the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from Health Sciences Park.
The recent attention that has been given to the dismissal of the Confederate flag from state capitals since the shooting has put more pressure on Southern political leaders to make a statement on any remnants of Confederate history.
“We are simply saying that there might be a more appropriate place,” said Wharton. “In the case of the flag, put it in a museum. Don’t put it out in common places. You see, we all have t
o drive down Union Avenue. It’s a common, unavoidable place. If someone wishes to see that, then go over to the cemetery in the peace of solitude, tranquility, and reverence and do it there. What Americans would say, I’d like to have a picnic in the shadow Bedford Forrest?”
Forrest fought in the Confederate army and is declared by many as one of the original leaders of the Klu Klux Klan, although any public involvement with the group is harder to pin down. Both his and his wife’s bodies are buried near the statue in Health Sciences Park. Their remains were originally buried at Elmwood Cemetery, but they were moved to the park in 1904.
The call for the statue's removal comes only two years after the name of the park itself was changed. In February 2013, the park was renamed from Forrest Park to its current name in a vote by the Memphis City Council.
The final decision on moving the statue and the bodies would have to be made by the Memphis City Council, making the Mayor’s declaration just a declaration. Any decision would have to come from the council and will likely receive much opposition from groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Wharton made it clear that removal of other Confederate symbols, specifically the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, around the city was a discussion for another day. His thoughts on the Forrest statue, however, according to the Mayor, are simple.
“We have an opportunity to just go ahead and remove this monument to a horrible time of the history of our state and nation,” Wharton said. “Let’s just do it.”