Monumental Democracy 

Enormous amounts of rhetoric have been loosed, both locally and nationwide, regarding the monuments to confederate figures and confederate causes that were erected in years past, and action of some sort is sure to follow. Even before the unsettling recent disturbances involving a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, a circumstance that saw opportunistic Nazis on the march and the resulting tragic death of a counter-protester, these statuary homages to a lost cause had potential for serious divisiveness.

click to enlarge New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Recognizing that fact, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans had the foresight to remove the confederate monuments there. Baltimore has since dismantled its own, and, pending possible further action, Charlottesville has moved to cover up the statue of Lee and another of Stonewall Jackson. Other cities have done something similar, and, famously and urgently, Memphis has the ongoing quandary of what to do with its downtown statues to Nathan Bedford Forrest and confederate president Jefferson Davis.

The prospect for decisive action on the matter has mounted significantly of late, with Governor Bill Haslam joining city officials in calling upon the Tennessee Historical Commission to acquiesce in the statues' removal, and the momentum is such that, one way or another, they could be gone even without such formal approval.

As it happens, Memphis is not just on the verge of abandoning an outmoded view of its history by junking one set of monuments, it also has the opportunity to refresh its horizons by erecting another set of memorials.

On Monday, the members of the Shelby County Commission voted unanimously to contribute significant funding to a memorial entitled Memphis Suffrage Monument: Equality Trailblazers, a permanent tribute in glass and bronze to Tennessee women who have loomed large in the expansion of voting rights.

This new memorial is to be a component of the Tennessee Womens Suffrage Trail, a statewide framework overseen by Memphian Paula Casey and Jacqueline Hellman, as well as of the Memphis Heritage Trail. It will also mark the 2020 Centennial of Tennessee's decisive passage of the 19th Amendment for universal suffrage. It is the work of sculptor Alan Leguire, who has created other monuments to the suffrage movement and to women's rights in Nashville, Knoxville, and Jackson.

The local memorial will be unveiled in August of 2018 in front of City Hall, and, on the way to the Suffrage Centennial, will also mesh with next year's 50-year planned commemoration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and with the 200th anniversary of the founding of Shelby County.

Plans are also afoot to create other monuments to equality in the general perimeter of the monument to the Equality Trailblazers, which will bear the busts of eight pioneers in the fight for, and exercise of, women's suffrage — Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, Lide Smith Meriwether, Lulu Reese, state Representative Joe Hanover, Charl Ormond Williams, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and state Representative Lois DeBerry, with additional tributes to Marion Griffin, Maxine Smith, and Minerva Johnican.

Monumental women, all of them.

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