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One of the statues depicted the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.

Jess McHugh
December 22, 2017

Memphis, Tennessee, took down two Confederate statues from parks Wednesday using a legal loophole.

The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, passed in 2013 and amended in 2016, prevented the removal or renaming of any statue that is on public property, NPR reported. So the city sold the parks to a private entity for $1,000 each, allowing for the removal to take place.

The statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis were erected in 1904 and 1964, respectively.

Forrest served as a lieutenant general in the Civil War, and he became known for an incident in which he ordered the massacre of black Union soldiers after they had already surrendered following the Battle of Fort Pillow. He would go on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the History Channel. Jefferson Davies was a U.S. senator from Mississippi who served as president of the Confederacy. After the war, he was imprisoned and charged with treason though never tried.

Tennessee Mayor Jim Strickland pointed out that the construction of the Forrest statue coincided with the height of Jim Crow laws, and the Davies statue came as the Civil Rights movement built momentum in securing equal rights for black people.

“The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum,” Strickland said in a statement posted to Facebook. “As I told the Tennessee Historical Commission in October, our community wants to reserve places of reverence for those we honor.”

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, located at the Lorraine Motel where Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, lauded the decision.

“For decades, these statues have haunted African Americans in this community, symbolizing oppression, white supremacy, and domestic terrorism,” Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum said in a statement. “These figures represented a time when the majority of the city’s population was considered three-fifths human and the property of the minority.”

Republican leaders slammed the decision, calling for an investigation.

“We are governed by the rule of law here in Tennessee and these actions are a clear infringement of this principle and set a dangerous precedence for our state,” House Majority Leader Glen Casada and House Republican caucus chairman Ryan Williams wrote in a statement, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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