Earlier this month, the Tennessee House passed a last-minute amendment to remove the $250,000, which would have been used for the city’s bicentennial budget, from the state’s annual budget in response to the removal of two Confederate statues in the city.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said he pushed for the amendment because the removal of the monuments was done against the legislature’s wishes.
The city sold two parks in December to Greenspace Inc. for $1,000 each with the understanding the group would continue to operate the land as parks. The sale allowed the private entity to remove the statues – Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis – from the lands.
State law requires local government and state historical commission approval before historical statues and monuments can be removed. The sell to Greenspace circumvented that law because private land is exempt from the law.
Last week’s amendment upset Memphis legislators, including Rep. Antonio Parkinson, who called the amendment “vile” and “racist.” Rep. Raumesh Akbari said the move was “unfair” and highlighted the dislike for Memphis and the sentiment that many legislators wished it was not considered a part of Tennessee.
Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, compared the city’s removal of the statues to ISIS, expressing discontent that the state couldn’t penalize the city “in the tune of millions of dollars.”
The budget amendment prompted people from across the state to start GoFundMe campaigns for the celebration, including Kyna Maynard, of Lebanon, who started the Memphis Bi-Centennial page.
“As Memphis prepares to celebrate their historic bicentennial, the state legislature has taken action to punish them. As a resident of Tennessee, I am not here to complain or voice my displeasure with the legislative actions,” Maynard said. “I am here to assist the city in recouping the funds needed to move forward with their celebration. Please help me stand up for what is good and what is right.”
A fundraising leader, Brittany Block, said she believed state lawmakers should not have punished the city for “making decisions in the best interest of its community and citizens.”
Block started a GoFundMe page, titled Memphis Budget Replenishment, which raised nearly $17,000 in the first 24 hours of the fundraising effort. She met with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland last week.
“This conversation was a starting point of how the funds will be used in a meaningful way for the city’s bicentennial, and I’m happy to announce that once presented to the [Memphis City Council] and agreed upon, the funds will be transferred,” Block said. “I have received a letter from the mayor's office to pass along to GoFundMe to ensure everybody that has donated will have their funds accepted by the city.”
Block said ideas for the funds use, such as literacy and summer youth employment programs, were discussed.
“I have been invited to be a part of the bicentennial steering committee to see this all the way through, and with that being said, the specifics of how these dollars will be used will be researched thoroughly before a decision is made,” Block said.
Strickland also shared his thoughts on the meeting with Block on Twitter.
“Great meeting just now with [Block]. I thanked her for her initiative for the [City of Memphis], and I thank each and every person who has donated for our bicentennial,” he said. “Today’s conversation was a starting point. Our city-county bicentennial celebration is more than a year away, so our plans aren’t exactly concrete just yet.”