By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Authorities in Memphis, a city steeped in civil rights history, removed two statues of Confederate leaders on Wednesday hours after the downtown parkland where they stood was sold to a private group.
Several U.S. cities have in recent months dismantled monuments to Confederate leaders, which have become focal points for a fraught national debate over race and politics.
The removal of the statutes of President Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest comes three months before Memphis marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination there of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
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Confederate General Forrest was a slave trader and a Ku Klux Klan leader.
Many Americans see such statues as symbols of racism and glorifications of the southern states' defense of slavery in the Civil War, but others view them as important symbols of American history.
"The statues no longer represent who we are as a modern, diverse city with momentum," Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement.
Earlier in the evening, the city council in Memphis voted unanimously to sell the land where the statues stood to a nonprofit organization called the Memphis Greenspace for $2,000 in order for the monuments to be removed, the Commercial Appeal newspaper reported.
"This is a fix, and a scam, and if the state has one hair on its ass then people will be charged with felonies," the Sons of Confederate Veterans said in a post on Facebook opposing the sale of the land.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by John Stonestreet)