Social media campaign #takeemdown901 mobilized U.S. citizens in the city of Memphis, Tennessee to protest Confederate statues in Memphis parks. The successful campaign ran May- December 2017.
Problems and Purpose:
In the U.S. city of Memphis, Tennessee, statues honoring Confederate soldiers are a hot-button issue. To many, the icons harken back to the age of slavery and are offensive. One campaign, birthed through social media, succeeded in their mission to remove the Confederate statues in two city parks, but tensions still remain.
Background History and Context:
The American Civil War (1861-1865) raged through the American South, and Memphis as an economic hub was a center of controversy. Many wealthy plantation owners sent their slave-harvested crops through the Memphis port on the Mississippi River. Because of the financial hold that slavery held over Memphis, it was a town that massively supported the Confederacy. However, when the Civil War ended, many former slaves moved to Memphis in search of paying jobs. Reconstruction, or the period of government-enforced rebuilding of the American South, allowed many formerly enslaved people the opportunity to own property, be elected to public office, and generate wealth. However, when the federal soldiers left the South, Jim Crow began his tenure. Laws detailing forced segregation, named Jim Crowe laws, were utilized as a modern form of the Confederacy to suppress the power and voices of black people in the South from the second half of the 19th century through the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated in Memphis in April 1968. Even with the issues of inequity in the city, many still felt that the Confederacy and what it represents should be honored. The statue of Jefferson Davis was erected in 1964 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a way to honor the only president of the Confederacy who lived in Memphis in the 1870s .
Now, with a majority black population, Memphis was prime for a new discussion on the legacy of the Confederacy and the history of oppression that the statues represent.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
Tami Sawyer is the chief architect in #takeemdown901. Her first use of the hashtag helped organize other Memphians in the fight to remove the statues from public property. Since social media is a free device (not counting phone and data pricing), funding for the original hashtag was not necessary. However, there was an ioby account dedicated to the funding of materials needed to organize physical resistance. Items from the proposed budget include “court costs and bail[,]…[an] art project[, and]…refreshments” . Overall, the ioby account accrued $2,825.00 from 41 donors with $2,583.33 to use on the project after platform fees.
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
Participants were recruited through social media. There was no selection committee on who could be involved, so voluntary self-selection was the selection method. However, there were key figures in the movement, including Tami Sawyer, the founder of #takeemdown901, and Van Turner, the Shelby County Commissioner and Executive Director of Memphis Green Space. According to analytics run on Talkwalker, a social media tracking site, on Twitter alone in the last seven days, #takeemdown901 was used in 775 conversations and engaged with 959 times. However, exact interaction numbers for the hashtag are not available in the source material.
The power of the hashtag led to public meetings. The first public meeting for #takeemdown901 happened at a local elementary school on June 20, 2017 and had over 100+ attendees . At the public meeting, people were able to sign a petition that gained over 4,500 signatures .
Methods and Tools Used:
The most important technique used in this case study was social media. Hashtag culture was able to rally a group of likeminded Memphians to call for action. Explicit tools used include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and hashtags on each site to spread the word. Some people used Facebook Live to record the statues being removed.
Additionally, crowdsourcing websites like In Our Back Yard were used to raise funds for the protests that happened as a direct result of the organizing through social media (https://participedia.net/method/183). Some participants also used the popularity of the hashtag to create political capital used in lobbying of city officials. Rallies and protests also were utilized (https://participedia.net/method/4601 ).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
The campaign began on June 11, 2017 with a tweet from Tami Sawyer, who initiated the hashtag and rallying cry . From there, social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram spread the word of the campaign and recruited supporters. From the hashtag came a public meeting on June 20, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. From the public meeting, a peaceful protest was scheduled for August 19, 2017 . At the protest, seven participants were arrested .
With this support, the campaign was able to lobby Memphis City Council to change the names of three parks that glorify the Confederacy with a 4,500-signature petition on August 22, 2017 . The participants of #takeemdown901 interacted respectfully with each other, city officials, and the media. In turn because of the petitions, Memphis City Council was willing to listen to their passionate constituents. Additionally, they agreed to apply for a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) to take down the statues. The THC blocked the waivers on October 13, 2017 and on November 13, 2017, so the city of Memphis found a loophole .
Conveniently, Memphis Green Space, Inc., a new 501c(3) created in October 2017, offered to buy the two parks, Jefferson Davis Park (now Fourth Bluff Park) and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park (now Health Sciences Park). On December 20, 2017, the City of Memphis sold the parks and, therefore, the statues to the nonprofit for $1000 each . Interestingly, Van Turner both is Shelby County Commissioner and operates Memphis Green Space. The statues were removed from the public parks at 9:01pm, Memphis’s area code, on December 20, 2017 .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
The Confederate Statues were removed from the Memphis Parks after Memphis Green Space, a local nonprofit, bought the two parks from the city for $1000 each. The statues are currently stored in a warehouse at an undisclosed location. There is nothing in place of the figures. In fact, the pedestal where the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue stood is still in place. One concern is that since Forrest and his wife are buried there, it will be harder to remove, even though Memphis Green Space desires removal. As of December 2018, there were two lawsuits against Memphis Green Space and a court-ordered injunction, so they cannot do anything about it currently . Racial unrest still exists in Memphis and in the larger state, where most of the lawsuits are coming from.
Tami Sawyer, the founder of the campaign, saw an increase in her political power. From #takeemdown901, she was able to leverage a campaign win as county commissioner. At the time of this entry, Sawyer is currently running for mayor of Memphis.
Media coverage surrounding the movement was supportive of the participants. For example, Memphis Flyer, a local newspaper, featured Sawyer on their cover on September 7, 2017  . The city mayor, Jim Strickland, released a statement on his Facebook page criticizing “the divisive, empty rhetoric that the media chooses to highlight” .
Within the city of Memphis, social connectedness was increased among citizens. Citizens were united around taking down the Confederate statues, and some citizens were united around keeping the Confederate statues in city parks. This fed into a sense of connectedness to larger conversations about preserving the larger history of the Confederacy.
Tami Sawyer’s leadership of this grassroots effort has inspired other young and nonelected peoples to promote social change in their city. Sawyer has given speeches at local colleges, and her work has been spotlighted in curriculum from youth development nonprofits like Girls Inc of Memphis.
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
The purpose of #TakeEmDown901 was to remove the Confederate statues from Memphis city parks. The goal was met because of the power of social media. Social media is a powerful tool. It allows you to gain support quickly and provides for both thick and thin participation. It is a powerful tactic in a citizen-engagement plan. However, what moved this campaign further was the public deliberation that the hashtag's support led. City Council and the City of Memphis were able to dialogue with citizens because these organizations saw the expressed needs and desires of the community.
See Also: -this is just for other Participedia cases
 Branston, John. (2013). A short history of the Jefferson Davis Statue in Confederate Park. Memphis Flyer. Retrieved from https://www.memphisflyer.com/CityBeatBlog/archives/2013/02/08/a-short-history-of-the-jefferson-davis-statue-in-confederate-park
 ioby. (2017). #takeemdown901. Retrieved from https://www.ioby.org/project/takeemdown901
 TamiSawyer. (2017, June 15). Volunteer call: With 100+ attendees at the public meeting for #takeemdown901 we need you! Sign up here and thanks!: [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/tamisawyer/status/875372204594221057
 wendi_c_thomas. (2017, June 20). 250+ people here to #takeemdown901. A line of speakers waiting to explain why the Confederate monuments should come down. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/wendi_c_thomas/status/877307590878924801
 DrLeighMJohnson. (2017, June 20). Definitely 350 ppl here now. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/DrLeighMJohnson/status/877308111392059393
 TamiSawyer. (2017, June11). Until Jefferson Davis comes down in Memphis Park, we call for a boycott of all events. #takeemdown901 #choose901 #memphis [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/tamisawyer/status/874041852130988034
 Douglas, Deborah. (2017, August 22). City council pushes Confederate statue decision til Sept. 5: Gov. Haslam throws weight behind #TakeEmDown901 cause as city attorney preps resolutions on 4 options. MLK50.com. Retrieved from https://mlk50.com/city-council-to-consider-immediate-removal-sale-of-confederate-statues-today-7c4f755359d2
 PrincipalMossJr. (2017, August 19). #takeemdown901 I spent my day at the peaceful protest to remove the Nathan Bedford Forest Statue. #ProtectThePeopleNotTheStatue #Memphis [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/PrincipalMossJr/status/899060171225387008
 Poe, Ryan. (2017, December 20). Memphis removes Confederate statutes from Downtown parks. The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved from https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/government/city/2017/12/20/memphis-council-votes-immediately-remove-confederate-statues/960707001/?hootPostID=30307180b5ab90fc2ab06bf697d2e16f
 MLK50 Memphis. (2017, December 20). The Confederacy falls in Memphis: City council sells Forrest, Davis statues to Memphis Greenspace, which immediately took them down. Medium. Retrieved from https://mlk50.com/source-memphis-confederate-monuments-to-come-down-wednesday-4b35ed1de8a2
 Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp #215 v. City of Memphis et al. (2019). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1epVIbUtVesLcBLq0tkYy3iur0RrKnx1m/view
 Davis, Chris. (2017, September 6). A q&a with take’em down 901 activist Tami Sawyer. Memphis Flyer. Retrieved from https://www.memphisflyer.com/NewsBlog/archives/2017/09/06/a-q-and-a-with-take-em-down-901-activist-tami-sawyer
 NinaHarrelsonTV. (2017, September 6). New @MemphisFlyer cover featuring activist @tamisawyer. #TakeEmDown901 [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/NinaHarrelsonTV/status/905505560514220033
 Mayor Jim Strickland. (2017, August 20). I want every Memphian to read this article… [Facebook update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/mayormemphis/posts/1917370005201487
 HillaryClinton. (2019, August 26). Meet 55 amazing candidates @runforsomething has endorsed this month, including an activist who helped remove Confederate statues in Memphis and a lifelong education advocate: [Twitter Post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/HillaryClinton/status/1166040240315863041?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1166040240315863041&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.commercialappeal.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2F2019%2F08%2F26%2Fhillary-clinton-tweets-support-memphis-mayor-candidate-tami-sawyer%2F2123324001%2F
 Run For Something. (2019). Bringing the [fire emoji]: Meet our August 2019 endorsement class!. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@runforsomething/bringing-the-meet-our-august-2019-endorsement-class-d59c04db2697
Tami Sawyer ran for Memphis mayor in the October 2019 election. Because of the historical significance of her possibly being the first black female mayor of Memphis and her merit as a public servant, Sawyer was spotlighted by several major entities, including Medium  and Hillary Clinton .
On October 16, 2019, the Sons of the Confederacy case against the City of Memphis lost.
The first version of this case entry was written by Kate Jenkins, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.