Sons of Confederate Veterans seek $30.6 million from City of Memphis

By MIKE CHRISTEN  |   Columbia Daily Herald 

The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the descendants of Nathan Bedford Forrest are calling for the City of Memphis and the owners of a city park to pay millions of dollars to relocate the graves of General Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann, and settle a lawsuit over the removal of a statue of the controversial leader.

The Columbia-based SCV request the City of Memphis and the park owners pay them more than $5 million to relocate the graves. Forrest’s decedents and the SCV also want the city and park owner, Memphis Greenspace Inc., to pay $25 million to cover legal costs. The case is now in the city’s court of appeals.

A letter, unsealed in a Nashville court on Tuesday, does not say where the remains would be re-interred, if moved.

This is the latest episode in an ongoing argument between the city and the SCV headquared in an antebellum home in Maury County.

The bodies of Forrest and his wife have been buried in a Memphis Park off Union Avenue for more than 100 years. The statue of the Confederate Army general atop the memorial was removed under the cover of night in December 2017 when Memphis Greenspace, a private, non-profit organization, acquired the park from the city which used a loophole in a Tennessee historical preservation law by selling the public park for $1,000.

“If this was really about history and heritage, Sons of Confederate Veterans could have had the statues months ago,” said Ursula Madden, the chief communications officer for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “They’ve made it about money to enrich themselves.”

Sons of Confederate Veterans member Lee Millar told a Memphis television station that the demands for money are an attempt to get the city and Greenspace back to the negotiating table.

“It’s not about the money.” Millar said. “It’s always been about preserving history, and we want the statues put back up. We’re serious, and we’ll stay in court as long as it takes because we feel the statues should go up back up. It’s part of our history.”

Greenspace CEO Van Turner said the reinstallation of the statue and other surrounding priced is an option will not be considered.

“We have to let the past be what it is,” Turner said. “Move beyond the past and move forward, and Memphians want this. We want to be the city we know we can be.”

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, according the Associated Press.

The Forrest family and the SCV have secured a stay from the court to prohibit the sale of the statue by the organization.

Memphis Councilman Allan Wade called the new lawsuit a cash-grab.

“We think it’s totally absurd,” Wade said. “It was an attempt to gain money by threatening to sue us for trespassing and desecration of graves.”

In the meantime, development of the park is at a stand-still due to the legal battle. The University of Tennessee Health and Science Center among other organizations have formed a collaborative to redevelop the district into a multi-purpose commercial and residential center.

A May ruling from Davidson County determined the removal of the statue did not violate state law because it was on private property when it was torn down. That case is currently being appealed by the SCV and the Forrest family.

In protest, members of the Tennessee House voted to withhold $250,000 in funding for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration which will be held in 2019.

The statue is currently in an undisclosed location.

The legislators also barred cities from selling or transferring property that has historic memorials without permission from a court or the Tennessee Historical Society.

The SCV is an American non-profit and charitable organization of male descendants of Confederate veterans. The organization has facilities in 41 states and five international locations. It works to preserve the history and legacy of the Confederacy with the goal that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern cause.

The SCV has ongoing programs at the local, state and national levels. Much of the organization’s work includes erecting and maintaining American Civil War memorials and graves, observing Confederate Memorial Day and encouraging Southern historical study.

The organization is run from Elm Springs, an antebellum home in Columbia. The property will also be home to a museum currently under construction.

With $5 million raised for the effort and counting, the museum is planned to have a modern and contemporary exterior, but with subdued architecture utilizing period-appropriate construction techniques to attain a level of authenticity.

The museum will house an archive, an exhibition space and the organization’s main offices.

Between 4,500 and 5,000 books and documents will be archived at the new facility’s research library.

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