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Tennessee Legislature OKs Bill Tightening Monument Loophole

Thomas R Machnitzki
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

In a parting shot to Memphis or any other city that would use a legal loophole to remove Confederate statues, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that makes it harder to get around the law.

On Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session, state lawmakers approved a measure that would bar cities from selling or transferring property that has historic memorials without permission from the Tennessee Historical Society — or a court.

The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act limits the removal or changing of historical memorials on public property. In December, leaders in the majority-black city used a legal loophole by selling the city parks to a nonprofit, which swiftly removed the monuments of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Bedford Forrest was a slave trader and early leader in the Ku Klux Klan.

The bill heads to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who said he still needs to see the final version before deciding how to act. But he said his view of how the Memphis situation unfolded comes down to the city's property rights.

"I think the unique thing there was Memphis owned that park," Haslam told reporters Friday. "I kind of come back to, whoever owns property should be able to decide what happens on it."

Lawmakers in Tennessee's Republican-dominated Legislature had vowed to punish Memphis afterward, and the House did so last week by stripping $250,000 from the budget that was to go to Memphis for its bicentennial celebration next year. Lawmakers from Memphis were outraged, calling the move racist and vile.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the celebration of the city's 200th anniversary would still go as planned.

Cities around the U.S. have sought to bring down Confederate monuments following the racially motivated massacre of nine people at a black church in South Carolina and a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Some proponents of keeping such monuments have said they are part of history and a reminder of Southern heritage.


This story has been edited to correct the date of the Memphis bicentennial to show that it is next year.

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