For 113 years, a bronze statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest—a man who rose above his station thanks to the slave trade, a Confederate general who orchestrated the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard—loomed over downtown Memphis, Tenn.
At 9:01 p.m. Wednesday, a time the New York Times notes coincides with the city’s area code, Forrest finally came down off his pedestal to the cheers and chants of the surrounding crowd. Earlier that night, the Memphis City Council had voted unanimously to take down the monument.
But the city of Memphis wasn’t done. By 10:40 p.m., a smaller statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis had also been removed from another park in the city.
Tami Sawyer, one of the leaders of Take ’Em Down 901, a group that had actively petitioned to remove the statues, told the Times that to “finally get to this moment is overwhelming.”
“I looked Nathan Bedford in the eyes and shed a tear for my ancestors,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, also commended the historic decision. According to Time magazine, Cohen commended Mayor Jim Strickland and the City Council “for finding a way to legally remove statues from an era that is not representative of Memphis today and have remained an affront to most of the citizens of Memphis.”
“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s important that these relics of the Confederacy and defenders of slavery don’t continue to be displayed in prominent places in our city,” Cohen added.
King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
What happened in Memphis regarding the Confederate monuments could serve as a blueprint for other cities and towns that want to dismantle racist statues erected on public lands.
As the New York Times reports, back in October, the Tennessee Historical Commission denied the city’s request to take down the two statues, which were protected by a state law that prevents “the removal, relocation or renaming of memorials on public property.”
So, on Wednesday night, the council moved swiftly to sell the land to a nonprofit called Memphis Greenspace. The sale of the two park properties, Health Sciences Park (the site of the Forrest statue, and which had previously been called Forrest Park) and Memphis Park, was approved by the council at a price of $1,000 apiece, according to WREG-TV.
Next, the City Council voted to remove the two Confederate statues from the parks—a measure that passed unanimously.
As WREG-TV reports, “within minutes of the decision” a crane rolled into Health Science Park, which was flanked by “a heavy police presence.”
Not everyone was happy with the decision, of course. According to Time, the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Memphis claims that the statues do not represent white supremacy—despite that being the very basis of the Confederate States of America—and said it would be a mistake to remove them.
It’s unclear what will happen with Forrest’s remains, which, Time reports, are buried under the monument.