After Removal of Confederate Memorial, Officials Say a Park Can Just “Be a Park”
The remains of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife were disinterred from Memphis’ Health Sciences Park on Monday.
Officials announced Friday that the exhumed remains are being kept at an undisclosed location until their future reinterment at the National Confederate Museum in Middle Tennessee, where a more than 100-year-old equestrian statue of Forrest that once also stood in the park will too be reconstituted.
Forrest, a slave trader and Ku Klux Klan figurehead, died in 1877 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery but was moved—along with his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest—to the downtown park in 1905 to memorialize him.
For years local advocates have campaigned against public displays of confederate monuments saying they glorify eras of legal racial segregation and slavery.
The City of Memphis took action in 2017 and removed the Paris-made bronze statue of Forrest. After a multi-year legal battle, family descendants and the group, Sons of Confederate Veterans, agreed to relocate both Forrest’s statue and grave to the National Confederate Museum in Columbia, Tennessee.
“It is our fervent hope that the retrieval of the remains of our ancestors will not only bring healing and closure to us, but the City of Memphis and its entire population,” members of the Forrest family said in a statement provided by Lee Millar, a spokesperson for Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Millar says the transfer is ultimately the best solution for everyone.
“A big active park like this is probably not the place for him,” Millar said at a press conference Friday. “We’re glad that General Forrest and Mrs. Forrest could be removed and placed in a more appropriate place.”
A week from Saturday, the park will host a celebration for the Juneteenth holiday, the date that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Construction crews are still expected to be on site as they complete the removal operation.
County Commissioner Van Turner says any additional future plans for the park are still to be determined. Turner also heads Memphis Greenspace, the non-profit that bought the park property from the city in 2017 to clear a legal path for removing the Forrest statue.
“I think what we want now is just for this park to be a park. And for you to enjoy the park like you enjoy other parks and not have any more symbolism here for just a little while,” he said at the same press conference as Millar. “Let’s just let the park breathe.”
Both Turner and Millar praised each other’s cooperation, saying it provided an example of groups finding common ground at a time of deep societal divides.
“Do Mr. Millar and I agree on everything? No. We’ll be the first to admit that,” Turner said. “But can we work together to get a job done that moves the city forward? The answer to that is, yes.”
Brent Taylor, who’s also a member of the Shelby County Election Commission, served as the funeral director for the process.
“We went through painstaking detail to ensure that we could collect the remains and do it in a dignified way,” he said, noting that Mrs. Forrest’s casket had to be replaced due to degradation.