“I want those things out of our city.”
Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale. Image by Harry How/Getty Images.
In the three weeks since a protester was killed in Charlottesville, David Fizdale, head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, has been campaigning to remove Confederate statues residing in Memphis city limits. He first unpacked his reasoning in an interview with the nonprofit journalism project MLK:50 following President Trump’s attempt to blame “many sides” for the violence that transpired. In the interview, Fizdale called the various governmental roadblocks keeping the statues in place “a disgrace.”
He continued during a presser introducing the Grizzlies’ offseason acquisitions on Aug. 30, when he was asked to expand on the interview. Fizdale promised that he “won’t let up” until statues depicting Jefferson Davis, the sole president of the Confederacy, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a wealthy slave-trader, Confederate general, and Klansman were placed in a museum or other venue in which a proper historical context could be provided. (The former statues resides on Mud Island, formerly Jefferson Davis Island, where a Confederate flag flew until Aug. 17.) In response, Fizdale linked the removal of the monuments to the larger goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]My agenda is simple — I want those things out of our city, out of public view.[/quote]
“It’s what Black Lives Matter means,” he said. “It matters to us when we have to look up at a statue of somebody that was oppressive to us and continuously have to go to those parks and see that in plain view and that our children have to see and asking us questions of that. That’s what that means. And so I won’t let up on that.”
Over the weekend, David Aldridge caught up with Fizdale for a wide-ranging and compelling interview in which he expanded upon the reason why the statues are of such great importance, not only to him personally — he has mixed-race parents and his white grandfather is a World War II veteran — but also to Memphis residents as a whole, a city with a 63.3% African-American population.
For Fizdale, it’s a moral imperative and part of the city’s lengthy history of civil rights struggles, including the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Via NBA.com:
“My agenda is simple — I want those things out of our city, out of public view,” Fizdale said by phone Saturday.
“I’m not even saying tear them up and melt them down,” he said. “Put them in their proper context in history. Their proper context is in a civil rights museum, where you could put them in context and talk about how awful they were. I just feel our citizens should not have to see that involuntarily.
But Fizdale will have to cut through some governmental red tape before he and the growing number of local activists and politicians who have aligned with him can prove victorious. As Aldridge notes, recently enacted Tennessee state laws gave the Tennessee Historical Commission the right to determine the statues’ ultimate fate. On Tuesday, the Memphis City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that would remove them, but the Historical Commission is not scheduled to meet until October. Even then, it’s not a given that they’ll make a ruling on the ordinance. In 2016, the Historical Commission quashed a previous attempt by city council to move the Forrest statue.
Fizdale is aware that by speaking out, he risks alienating a chunk of the team’s fan base. Despite a backing from the Grizzlies’ owner and many white business owners, he wants people — specifically white people and those who may be on the fence — to feel “uncomfortable,” he said. That’s the voting block he’s going to have to sway.
And Fizdale singled out Memphis’ white population to stand up and join his campaign.
“Because until this becomes absolutely unacceptable to you, it’ll continue,” Fizdale told Thomas. “And so we need everybody to get involved right now. I know my wife and I, we’ll definitely be right there in the trenches, on the front line, spreading peace and love and trying to build real communities with people from all walks of life that are facing the exact same problems.”
Still, when attempting to change hearts and minds, Fizdale is more than ready to approach those who disagree.
“I posed it to an older white woman who’s a friend of mine,” he said. “She said ‘I understand but I don’t; can you help me?’ I said sure. I told her to close her eyes. I said, ‘picture your mother or great grandmother. Imagine there were black men who raped her, and killed other people in your family, and enslaved those people. And now, all these generations later, you’ve been given certain rights and you are free to do what you want. And they’ve got a statue of this big, black man in your city, who did that to your relatives. How would you feel about that?’ And she opened her eyes and said ‘oh, my God, I get it.’”