Confederate flag

Memphis Privatizes Its Parks to Get Rid of Confederate Statues

Private spaces are a great way to minimize social conflict.


Memphis statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest
Raffe Lazarian/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A Tennessee city has come up with a novel way to get rid of Confederate monuments: privatization.

Yesterday the Memphis City Council unanimously agreed to sell Health Science Park and an easement at Fourth Bluff Park for $1,000 apiece to Memphis Greenspace, a local nonprofit. That same night, Greenspace removed the statue of the Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Tennessee's Heritage Protection Act, you see, forbids the removal of historic statues from public land. Passed in 2013, the act states that "no memorial regarding a historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, historic figure, or historic organization that is, or is located on, public property, may be removed, renamed, relocated, altered, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed or altered."

The law was itself a response to Memphis' attempt simply to change some parks' names. (Among them: Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park, and Forrest Park). The council voted in 2015 to remove the statue of Forrest but was blocked by the state law. The city then applied to the Tennessee Historical Commission for a waiver to remove the statue, but in October the commission declined the request.

With no other option for removing the statues, the city opted to privatize the parks. As the statue removal was getting underway, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted: "All of this is privately financed—the purchase of the parks, the removal of the statues, and Memphis Greenspace's future maintenance of the park."

With the removal of Forrest's statue, Memphis joins a number of other cities, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Austin, and Lexington, that have removed statues of Confederate leaders this year.

The presence of Confederate statues, memorials, and flags has become increasingly controversial in recent years, culminating in lethal violence at an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this year. By selling off its statues, Memphis demonstrates how private spaces can minimize this kind of social conflict.

Public spaces are expected to reflect the views and feelings of the general public. When such spaces memorialize things where public opinion is hotly divided, conflict will erupt as different groups will push their mutually exclusive claims on that public space. But private spaces aren't expected to represent the views of anyone but their owners. If you don't like Greenspace's removal of the Forrest statue, you're free to buy a place to put up a statue of your own.

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  1. Nice. 2 birds 1 stone & no govt force

    1. IDK, it could be better.

      1. It’s not like Autozone Park up the street, the park was sold to a non-profit.
      2. I don’t know what Autozone paid for their park, $1000 seems like a steal. Unless they sold just a few hundred square feet of the park, in which case, this could get worse before it gets better. I’d throw the village $5000 apiece for my neighbors’ easements tomorrow.
      3. If I were a white nationalist or an avid historical preservationist and this move were anything other than on the up and up, which it kinda-sorta doesn’t appear to be, this wouldn’t allay my hatred of modern government/society or fears about being written into wrongly or entirely out of history.

      1. Nothing inherently wrong with nonprofits.

        1. Nothing inherently wrong with nonprofits.

          That depends on your view(s) of capitalism. More along the lines of what I was saying, it doesn’t appear that it was a bidding war or an offer was made by a wealthy corporate interest. For all we know and/or as near as anybody can tell, Memphis Greenspace is no more than a shell company created by the same public officials that tried to take the statues down before and ended up selling it to the non-profit for $1000. Autozone, OTOH.

          Might as well have Mayor Daily bulldozing airports in the middle of the night and Christie shutting down George Washington Bridge.

      2. 1. It’s not like Autozone Park up the street, the park was sold to a non-profit.

        Libertarians against charity, news at 5.

        2. I don’t know what Autozone paid for their park, $1000 seems like a steal.

        Why? They’re not allowed to develop it or charge for admission.

        1. Why not let the market decide the value of the land?

          Also, the ordinance itself calls for “the sale and/or conveyance, at reduced or no cost….”

          1. The market didn’t decide the value of the land. The City Council wanted to get rid of the memorials and came up with a cheap and easy way to do it. So what decided the value of the land was not the market but opportunistic politics. What does anyone think would have happened if a pro-Confederacy non-profit had tried to outbid this non-profit for the same land? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

        2. Libertarians against charity, news at 5.

          A non-profit is not intrinsically a charity. Especially not a non-profit formed and chaired by a County Commissioner. It’s crony capitalism without the capitalism.

      3. Instead of going through the legal machinations to remove these Confederate statues, wouldn’t it be easier to post a disclaimer on each statue?
        It could read” This is a statue of a traitor. In a perfect workd he would have been tried and hung for treason 150 years ago.”.

  2. If you don’t like Greenspace’s removal of the Forrest statue, you’re free to buy a place to put up a statue of your own.

    Yeah, but something tells me the Memphis City Council won’t be selling park land for $1,000 to the KKK. They should have at least sold the land for what it’s worth. But I guess at least they’ve eliminated the future maintenance costs.

    1. How much you wanna bet they keep maintaining the park?
      Or just buy it back from the county commissioner they sold it to for $100,000?

      1. It sounded to me like they just sold the ground under the statue and the easements, which is shady as fuck.

        1. Shady implies covert or nefarious. This seems like a pretty overt way to get around an overbearing State law.

          1. This seems like a pretty overt way to get around an overbearing State law.


        2. The ground under the statue?

          the graves of Forrest and his wife currently resting under the statue

          1. The ground under the statue?

            I didn’t mean the graves specifically. I was sorta agreeing with you that, technically, the City still owns the benches, curbs, sidewalks, and garbage cans.

            I was also bemoaning the fact that they didn’t exactly just skirt the law. It’s not like they tried to sell the property and otherwise preserve or auction off the memorial in the process. They specifically sold off the land (in violation of the plain letter of the law) in order to tear down the statue (in violation of both the letter and spirit of the law).

            That is to say, if instead of memorials of racists, we were talking about a wacky state overreach to preserve benches (or even just recoup the cost of building the benches) that said “public benches as a part of or on public property are not to be moved or destroyed” and they sold the property out from underneath the benches, as long as the benches didn’t get destroyed, you could argue that they weren’t breaking, but just skirting, the law. If they loaded the benches into a canoe to move them to a historical and, through a tragic canoe accident, tragically lost all of them; then it’s readily apparent that they violated the letter of the law as the benches were being moved. However, it’s still difficult to argue that they specifically violated at least the spirit of the law. The fact that they sold the land specifically to tear up the benches means they violated both the letter and spirit of the law.

        3. It sounded to me

          Unfortunately, you’re functionally illiterate.

  3. But now the parks will only be for the rich!

  4. So, let me get this right: You are celebrating the fact the government did an end around on itself to subvert a law passed by legislation? You want to talk about the ends justifying the means. I have no idea the size of these parks, but even if they were only an acre, show me ANYWHERE in Memphis I can buy an acre for $1k. Were these parks publicly put up for sell, or was this all under the table? Sorry, but I’m throwing my bullshit flag on this one. Personally, I am against building statues of anyone, and I have zero problem with ALL of these monuments coming down. But there is a right way and a wrong way. Memphis chose the latter. I smell some kind of lawsuit brewing in the not so distant future,

    1. Yes, did the Sons of Confederate Veterans get a chance to bid? Was this a fair and open auction? Imagine the hue and cry if Memphis sold some park to a gas driller without all the proper notices, environmental studies, open bidding, etc.

    2. It was all under the table. In fact, if the Interwebs are to be believed, Memphis Greenspace (the non-profit in question) was established in October, with a Senior Staff Attorney to the City of Memphis as its registered agent.

      In the City’s defense, the ordinance at least made it explicit that they were doing this to skirt the state law.

      1. The Chairman is the County Commissioner.

        I can’t fathom that they couldn’t find a corporate sponsor or random philanthropist to at least give the thing some air of propriety. It seems like you ought to be able to send Bloomberg or even the Koch Brothers a letter saying “Confederate Statue + your $1000 = 0” and get a check no questions asked.

    3. I wonder where the $1000 came from (plus the money to pull down the statue).

      1. a grant from the city

    4. I have a big problem with the substance of the deal. But I have no problem using legal means to subvert a stupid law.

  5. That law doesn’t seem constitutional. How can the state tell a city what to do with its property?

    1. In many states, the cities and counties are charter organizations under the State.

      This was a big deal in Michigan when the Flint water issues were going on, and whether the state had authority to intervene – turns out they did. The cities can elect their own officials, but any power they have has been delegated by the State and can be revoked if they State doesn’t like what the city is doing and is willing to endure the political costs of meddling in a locality.

    2. > That law doesn’t seem constitutional. How can the state tell a city what to do with its property?

      Look up “home rule” and “Dillon’s rule.” Tennessee is obviously a Dillon’s rule state, as is my (current) home state of North Carolina. A municipality can do nothing without first getting the state legislature’s permission. The legislators spend a great deal of time passing non-controversial bills relating to individuals cities and counties. And the occasional controversial one, like the one banning sanctuary cities.

  6. We’re all for privatization, right?

    1. Yes, the government should sell all the roads to a private entity for $1 and then sign a contract to collect the tolls and maintain the roads for 30% of the take. Robert Poole would approve.

    2. Not if it’s done by icky people who don’t like slavery, sorry.

      1. I don’t know nor care what their views about slavery are.

        The state enacted a law and the city and county effectively colluded to hire it’s own employees to circumvent the law. I mean, if we were talking about your right to carry a gun out of LaGuardia Airport, there would be no question that the airport, local, city, regional, and even state authorities can eat a shit sandwich and like it. For fuck’s sake, not even a week ago we were roasting a Chicago alderman for having the gall to own a restaurant, run for office, and then pass legislation, all in accordance with the letter of the law, that favored (if you look at it in the right light) his brick and mortar restaurants over food trucks.

        1. pass legislation issue ordinances

    3. This deal doesn’t look anything like actual privatization.

  7. Maybe that’s why there’s no great, unified hue-and-cry over Trumps reduction of the sizes of national monuments.

  8. And if a private land owner in Memphis does put up a statue of Forrest, what then?

    I strongly suspect that this newfound appreciation for private property will disappear faster than a fart in a tornado.

    1. Yes, I’m sure you can find many instances of municipalities eminent domaining private property to seize and destroy pro-Confederacy artwork located on the property. I’ll wait….

  9. I’d love to buy some public land in Memphis for $1000, where do I bid?

    1. Just call your boss on the city council and make him an offer.


      1. Exactly. That’s the joke, since it doesn’t seem like there was any public bidding. =/

  10. Uncle Reamus

  11. Hey, this seems like an easy way for all those “blue” cities to shut down the everything from Naxos marches to “free speech” rallies. Just “privatize” the parks, roads, and town squares, then voila, no more pesky constitutional rights to protect.

    Is this really what “Libertarian” means to some people?

    1. Actually… yes (minus the think stench of corruption in this particular case). But it would also means farmer on the border has every right to not let immigrants cross, a business has a right to not hire leftists, and bakers don’t have to make gay cakes. We each can do what we want on OUR land… and not interfere with others. That fosters peace because no one is imposing on anyone else. It also allows the land to eventually flow towards productive uses when the being politically loud shtick gets old.

      But I speak only for myself here.

    2. Very much so.

  12. My ancestors landing in PA, settling in VA, fighting in the Revolution and migrating through the Cumberland Gap should have their historical acts which are memorialized torn down due to PC values of this time placed on their actions based on values of that time? As they ended up on both sides during the civil war do you only tear down the Confederate monuments, or both as the blood line is “tainted” (they were all patriarchal “white” people after all). Many chose a side because of close kin, they get a pass? One made it to the Alamo, with the TN men, so do we sell that to a private enterprise or do we just tear it down? Lost in the discussion of the morally superior who would take it upon themselves to rid us of offensive things is the fact that at some point do we not expect that persons, deprived of their voice, flying the “don’t tread on me”, will at some point think that perhaps they should just add a confederate flag to it as they are tired of being told what shits they are because of their ancestry? I admit I consider it now, and did not before this bs started.

    1. Oh dear me I just went to the can to whizz and found a penis also! A “white male” I am, with ancestors who owned slaves and fought on the confederate side. How can I make amends for my white maleness? Certainly self castigation is in order and I shall set myself down and perform some physical abuse to myself. Yes, I shall drink bourbon to excess and destroy brain cells and liver alike. That should do it.

  13. “We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.”
    ? last public words of Nathan Bedford Forrest, speaking to a large group of black people in Memphis, July 4th, 1875

    Yeah, sounds like a Klansman to me.

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