Memphis Council Battles Park Names as State Bill Looms

Memphis Council Battles Park Names as State Bill Looms

Tuesday was a contentious day at Memphis City Hall, all because of a park that's been named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest for more than a hundred years.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Tuesday was a contentious day at Memphis City Hall, all because of a park that's been named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest for more than a hundred years.

Some council members say its time to change the name; others say, leave history alone.

People crammed in to the city council meeting room, forcing folks to enforce orders from the fire marshal.

In a city with a lot of people out of work, where more people live in poverty than any other city of its size in the country, where crime continues to be a major concern, people spent the morning debating the names of parks.

Councilman Myron Lowery wants civil rights activist Ida B. Wells' name to be added to Forrest Park. "I'm not trying to rewrite history. I'm not trying to change history. And I don't think anybody in this room needs a history lesson," he said.

Based on the banter in the room, Nathan Bedford Forrest was either a great general and a swell guy after the war, or a slave trading racist.

City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove believes Forrest was evil, and said maybe the park's name should be changed to honor a slave who slaughtered white slave owners in the 1800's.

"I would like to move to rename that park Nat Turner Park. Because Forrest hated black people, and Turner hated white people," she suggested.

Councilman Lee Harris says rename Forrest, Confederate and Jefferson Davis Parks right now, and name them after the streets where they're located.

"When I first looked at this issue, it wasn't very important. It was like, who cares what a park is named. But you know, over time and getting all these history lectures from folks out of town telling us what to do, it's become a very important issue to me."

Also present was University of Memphis history professor Aram Goudsouzian, saying Nathan Forrest was not the kind of guy a park should be named after.

"For more Americans now, northern and southern, black and white, their understanding is Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader. That he was a military commander at the massacre at Fort Pillow, where black troops were slaughtered after they surrendered. And he was an early member of the KKK, which was a terrorist organization."

As he spoke, H.K. Edgerton, an African American who goes around the country talking about the good things about the Confederacy, couldn't hold his feelings in. "Lies!" he exclaimed.

Neither could Lee Millar of the group Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"Forrest was known as a very humane slave trader," he said, "He never split families."

There is a proposal in Nashville that would make it illegal to change the name of any park named after a war or war hero, which is why Harris wants to change the names of Confederate, Forrest and Jefferson Davis Parks right now.

"The state action speaks to those three specifically - Confederate Park, or an park that is named or dedicated for somebody associated with a war - like the Civil War, or as they put it, 'the war against the states.'"

The council talked about forming a committee to study the names, to determine the historical significance, and to recommend changes. Most folks in this meeting didn't want any changes.

Millar noted, "I'm afraid it will draw unfortunate national attention to this city and divide the city. Historic parks should be left alone."

Due to the looming state bill proposal, nine council members voted in favor of changing the names of the parks, effective immediately. The parks will be temporarily renamed: Forrest Park will be Health and Sciences Park, Confederate Park will be Memphis Park, and Jefferson Davis Park will be the Mississippi River Park.

A committee comprised of council members, historians, members of the NAACP and other citizen groups will be formed to decide permanent names for the parks.
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