MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A war of words ensued between a Shelby County Commissioner and volunteer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans at the plaza where remains of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife are buried in Memphis.
Work resumes Wednesday morning to remove the pedestal and the tomb from Health Sciences Park.
The crew of volunteers will have one less person after a heated exchange with Commissioner Tami Sawyer.
The commissioner told FOX13 she called Memphis Police to complain one volunteer harassed and threatened her.
The exchange between the two was authentic, emotional and not unexpected.
“Come whoop my $%&, put your hands on me so you can go to the jail for the rest of your life,” said Sawyer as our cameras captured one of many confrontations between the county commissioner and the volunteer.
Before the heated exchange, Sawyer took down the confederate flags posted on the fence around the plaza.
Four years ago, Sawyer was a grassroots organizer. She helped galvanize public support in opposition to the remains of former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader and former leader of the KKK in what would be later named Health Sciences Park.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest placed ads in papers selling black women as bedroom girls. He deserves no presence in the city that is 75% people of color,” said Sawyer.
Sawyer told FOX13 the man who confronted her is one of the leaders of Confederate 901, an organization that has rallied but failed to keep Confederate statues in place in Memphis.
Sawyer and this volunteer apparently have sparred on social media but never in front of cameras.
It shows even with the Forrest statue gone, the debate about its symbolism remains.
As the volunteer sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic as Sawyer held a news conference, she turned and said “Guess what? Dixie is dead. And it was killed by the ancestors of black people.”
FOX13 emailed Memphis Police for a copy of the police report filed by Sawyer and if it will investigate the commissioner’s complaint.
MPD has not responded.
We asked Rhodes College history Professor and Civil Rights scholar and author Charles McKinney about the volunteer confronting Sawyer as she was trying to hold a news conference.
Sawyer has drawn the ire of local Confederate supporters because as a grassroots activist, she galvanized public opinion against the statue being in the park.
“This is the same type of tactics that segregationists and Klan members, white supremacists and racial terrorists were using in the 50′s and 60′s to taunt civil rights activists,” McKinney said.
Greenspace is a nonprofit that now owns the park where the remains of Forrest, his wife and the plaza are located. Its president Van Turner told FOX 13 the confrontation that happened to today can’t happen again.
Turner said the debate is over, the courts have ruled and the statue is gone.
Volunteers will begin removing the pedestal above Forrest’s remains on Wednesday.
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