There was usually a breath between introducing themselves and the names of those sold into slavery by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Students, standing at the front of a room at the Memphis Theological Seminary on Thursday evening, ranged in age and came from different schools. They were selected by community members in support of the #TakeEmDown901 movement. A few were part of a Facing History program at their schools, some were the children of local organizers.
They stood shoulder to shoulder as they read the names of some of those whose lives had been bought and sold by a Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. His statue, mounted on concrete and forged in 100 pounds copper, was removed from the Memphis landscape a year ago Dec. 20.
“We were trying to get involved in the history of Memphis to make the future of Memphis,” said Ruby-Elliote Lewis, 13.
Brianna read a poem before reading her list of names, while her twin sister Britney watched from the audience.
“I wanted to provide inspiration to young people,” Brianna said. Her father is a pastor at a Baptist church in Frayser. He spoke about the challenges his children have faced during the meeting. There’s been violence and threats to their safety over the past few years, things thriving in places like school and their community where they are supposed to be safe. But their presence on Thursday belied any fears and focused on a collectivism toward improvement.
“I knew this was a movement but didn’t understand the depth,” she said. “I became a part of it tonight.”
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation and Community Change.