By Ria Patel
A city council debate concerning the potential removal of Confederate statues enrages Memphians and causes a social media uproar. Keep reading to find out how the St. Mary’s community responds.
On Aug. 22, the Memphis City Council discussed the immediate removal of Confederate statues located in various Memphis city parks: the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, located in downtown’s Confederate Park and the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader of the Confederate army in the Civil War, located at the Health Sciences Park.
The debate has heightened for many months, but it only recently took to protests, several of which have even ended in police intervention and arrests.
On Aug. 15, Black Lives Matter and several other activist groups encircled the statue of Davis chanting “hey ho, hey yo, Jefferson Davis has got to go!” But, they were met by Memphians with opposing views.
Many Memphians feel the statues represent and honor the Confederate leaders’ bravery in the face of war. Others contend that it is disrespectful to the Union soldiers and slaves - and all African Americans today.
“Personally, I believe that if something is offending someone for a reason that is fixable . . . I can’t see how it’s rational to keep it up,” says Hattie Fogarty (12). Hattie also adds, “but we can’t just assume that we can take down everything that is offensive to someone.”
Tami Sawyer (‘01), is an activist and the Director of Diversity and Cultural Competence at Teach for America. She also serves as the driving voice behind the emerging “Take ‘em Down” movement as well as Black Lives Matter in Memphis and stands at the forefront of the fight for removal, as she actively participated in the protests over the statues.
Sawyer says, “I think that the statues should be offensive to all communities of people who believe in equal rights.”
When asked if the statues could possibly represent another topic, such as the generals’ leadership in war, Sawyer says “I don’t believe so because . . . these people were leaders during the Confederacy . . . the people who built the statues built them for a specific reason, and it was to not to say hey, look at these great leaders we should learn from.”
Sneha Sharma (12), Chairman of the Mayor’s Youth City Council who will have an opportunity to work with the city council in effort to make a decision on the issue, says “It’s important to know what happened in American history. At the same time, I think that we shouldn’t be honoring or glorifying the Confederacy or what happened in the Civil War. You don’t need to glorify what the fight was about. It wasn’t a glorious fight.”
Sawyer agrees, saying “these statues rewrite history, they don’t tell the truth.”
Still, Hattie admits, “immediate removal seems ideal, but it’s an ideal.” Memphis might not give up on these monuments so quickly.
And Memphis is not the only city struggling with this debate. The discussion of Confederate statue removal is occurring across the country. Throughout the Southeast, cities are forced to decide if these figures continue to honor the heritage and history of our country or represent racism and go against American values.
In Belton, Texas, for example, an argument over a sculpture of Robert E. Lee ended in its removal on Sept. 22. Additionally, Nashville is actively discussing the possible removal of the bust of Sam Davis housed in the capitol.
While the fate of the statues in Memphis remains undetermined, the conversation at St. Mary’s persists. On Sept. 25, Sneha Sharma and Liz Saeed hosted a fireside chat discussing the issues surrounding the monuments. Additionally, Erin Jewel, Alexis Jamison, Kiara Norris, and Assata Smith will continue the discussion as they speak on effects of Charlottesville and surrounding events at their Oct. 12 fireside chat.