Relatives of Confederate General Demand $30M from Memphis to Move Grave From Park
MEMPHIS (AP) — Relatives of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest are demanding $30 million from the city of Memphis, Tennessee, and a nonprofit to move his remains from a park and settle a lawsuit over the takedown of a statue of the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Forrest’s family members and the Sons of Confederate Veterans are suing the city and Memphis Greenspace Inc. over the equestrian statue’s removal from Health Sciences Park in December. Memphis used a loophole in a Tennessee historical preservation law by selling the public park for $1,000 to Greenspace, a private nonprofit.
Greenspace then removed the monument under the cover of night and has stored it in an undisclosed location. However, the remains of Forrest and his wife are still buried at the park and the family and the veterans group want the statue returned to the park.
A letter filed in a Nashville court and unsealed Tuesday said Forrest’s relatives believe it would cost $5.6 million to remove, transport and re-bury the remains. They’re seeking another $25 million to take possession of the statue and settle the lawsuit, which is under appeal. The letter does not say where the remains would be re-interred, if they are moved.
Any future development of the park is hindered by the ongoing legal battle, lawyers for the Forrest family also note in the letter. Entities in the medical district, which includes the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, formed a collaborative to redevelop the district into a multi-purpose commercial and residential center, court documents show.
Greenspace has said it would be open to moving the statue outside of Memphis and Shelby County, possibly to a Civil War museum or memorial. But the Forrest family and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have secured a stay from the court to bar the sale of the statue.
“The final place for reconstituting the graves of General Forrest and his wife, as well as all related items, will be chosen by the Plaintiff — the Forrest Descendants,” said the letter filed in Davidson County Chancery Court on Aug. 30.
The city of Memphis issued a stern response to the proposal, calling it an “outlandish demand.”
“They’ve made it about money,” city spokeswoman Ursula Madden said.
Cities have tried to remove Confederate monuments following the racially motivated massacre of nine people at a black church in South Carolina and a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Leaders in majority-black Memphis worked for months on finding a way to remove the statues, amid protests and calls from civil rights advocates who said they were monuments to racism and hate. Forrest was a Confederate general, a slave trader and a leader in the early Ku Klux Klan.
The lawsuit filed after the statue was taken down claims the action violated the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which limited the removal or changing of historical memorials on public property. The city also sold another park to Greenspace, which quickly removed statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Capt. J. Harvey Mathes from that property.
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled in May that the removals did not violate state law because they were on private property when they were torn down. That ruling is being appeals by the Forrest family and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Lawmakers in Tennessee’s Republican-dominated Legislature vowed to punish Memphis for removing the monuments. The House voted to withhold $250,000 in funding for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration next year.
The General Assembly also passed a bill this year making it harder for cities to get around the law. They approved a measure barring cities from selling or transferring property that has historic memorials without permission from the Tennessee Historical Society — or a court.