Getting Jefferson Davis out of Memphis

One day last spring I took a long walk in Memphis along the banks of the Mississippi River. I watched the sun set from Confederate Park, and took the pictures you see here. I paused at the statue of Jefferson Davis, and couldn’t get past the inscription’s description of him as a “true American patriot.” In a city where a majority of residents are descended from people Davis waged a war to keep enslaved, the statue seemed a slap in the face at the very least. The inscription seemed an attempt to redefine treason as patriotism.

That statue, it turns out, was erected not in the wake of the Civil War, but in 1964, in the wake of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

It also turns out that the City of Memphis, which owns the park, had been trying for years to get the statue removed. But the Tennessee Legislature had prevented it with a state law prohibiting the removal of any historic structures from public lands. Some conservatives believe in states’ rights and local self-determination right up to the point when a state or locality tries to do something they don’t like. Just like they support individual freedom as long as the individuals don’t choose to do something of which they disapprove, but don’t get me started.

Last week, the Jefferson Davis statue came down, along with a statue of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest in another Memphis park. City officials, committed to erasing the embarrassment before next year’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King and eager to get it done before the Legislature reconvened in January and tried to stop them, found a loophole in the law. They sold the parks to a non-profit, which removed the statues from the no-longer-public property. Slate has the full story here:

I’m now hunkered down in frigid New England, having left our trailer in much less frigid Macon, Georgia. We will reunite in early January to continue our journey.

New adventures await all of us. Happy New Year to all.