Memphis sells central park in order to remove Confederate monuments in defiance of Tennessee lawmakers

Memphis has sold one of its central city parks in order to take down two Confederate monuments which the state officials had banned it from removing. 

The likenesses of rebel leaders Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest were taken down from Health Sciences Park overnight – just hours after the city sold it to a private group.

Forrest was a secessionist general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan leader and Davis was president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

Earlier this month, Tennessee state’s governing body refused Memphis city council’s bid to get rid of the monuments.

To work around the decision, the council voted unanimously to sell the parkland in which the statues were displayed.

The parkland was bought on Wednesday evening by Memphis Greenspace, a non-profit organisation, for $2,000 (£1,500), local media outlets reported.

The organisation has agreed  to keep the parks open to the public and maintain them.

The city’s mayor, Jim Strickland, said: "History is being made in Memphis now.

"These statues no longer represent who we are as a modern diverse city with momentum."

He added that the monuments would be preserved but did not reveal where they would be kept.

The move was criticised by groups linked to Confederate veterans groups, with one calling a "fix and a scam". 

Should Confederate era statues be removed?

But local pastor Earle Fisher told local media that the monuments were "racist relics".

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"It’s a wonderful thing and it’s something that we should celebrate," he said of the statues’ removal.

The move comes three months before Memphis marks the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot in the city in March 1968.

It is the latest city in the US to remove Confederate monuments, which opponents say championed slavery and white supremacy. Others view them as important symbols of American history.

New York, Boston, New Orleans, Austin and Washington DC are among a number of cities to have removed Confederate monuments over the last year. 

In August a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia led to the death of a young woman and shined a spotlight onto the debate over the prominence of Confederate monuments around the country.