This story just keeps getting more bizarre by the hour. Earlier today it looked like the Memphis City Council was going to vote to change the name of Forrest Park to Forrest – Wells Park, in honor of Ida B. Wells. Of course, local heritage organizers decided to shuttle in H.K. Edgerton to speak on behalf of a slave trader and member of the Ku Klux Klan. A few hour ago it looked like the council was going to rush through a vote to beat the passage of legislation on the state level (PDF) that would make it illegal to change the name of any public space named after a military figure. The latest news is that a decision was made to temporarily change the names of three city parks:
Forrest Park will now be known as Health Sciences Park.
Confederate Park is now Memphis Park.
Jefferson Davis Park is now Mississippi River Park.
And there you have it. I assume they will re-visit this issue at a later date. As always, I am happy with what the local community decides through their local elected officials.
That said, I do hope they decide to amend the name of the park to include Wells rather than discard Forrest entirely. The dedication of a park after such an individual tells us something important about the history of race and white power in Memphis’s history. Tearing it down does little more than erase that history from public view. Adding a monument and/or marker to Ida B. Wells compliments the Forrest monument in any number of ways. It reflects the voices of a part of the community that was prevented from taking part in the process that led to the original dedication and, more importantly, it reflects a stark change of values.
There are a number of plans on the table that would change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis, Tennessee. Any plan that involves removing the Forrest monument would also have to include the removal of his remains which are buried below. That presents all kinds of challenges. As I’ve said before, I am not a fan of tearing monuments down, though I do believe there are always exceptions to the rule. In this case I think a name change is certainly justified, but rather than discard Forrest’s name I would like to see Ida B. Wells’s name added. Welcome to Forrest – Wells Park. It has a nice ring to it. The Memphis City Council meets today to consider a proposal to do just that. Stay tuned. In the meantime…
What is it about pastors and Confederate generals, especially someone like Forrest? Of all the historical figures to utilize as representative of living a good life, is Forrest really the best we can do? I certainly know enough to explain this, but I will never understand it.
As an educator, however, I worry much more about people like Dan Horn and his new series of videos, titled “Causes of the Civil War” which he sells through a website called Discerning History. Horn is “is a writer, tour guide, computer programer and pastor based in North Carolina. He is an elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and has written several books on theology.” He has no credentials in the field of history or history education. Here is what that gets you.
Like many of you who are in the classroom I spend a good deal of time trying to find ways to impart the complexity of slavery and the master-slave relationship to my high school students. Mr. Horn’s understanding of the subject is not only seriously flawed, it’s dangerous. From what I can tell his understanding of the history of slavery is based on books written entirely before 1940. His website looks somewhat professional and the videos themselves will easily seduce those who do not know any better. This is just another reason why the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse.
It should go without saying that a site such as this without any institutional affiliation and hosted by an individual with no formal training in the field should not be utilized as an educational resource.
On January 5, 2013, director Steven Spielberg, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and screenwriter Tony Kushner returned to Richmond, Virginia, where “Lincoln” was filmed, to discuss the process of “Bringing History to Life on Film” before an audience of 4,200. Moderated by Tim Reid.
You may remember that a few weeks ago Virginia Flagger Tripp Lewis was arrested on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts following a conflict with museum security. This recent incident reflects a pattern of behavior in this group. It’s a desperate plea for attention and a clear indication that very few people are listening or care enough to advocate in one way or another for the group. I’ve said from the beginning that I respect their right to protest, but at this point I see no clear road leading to success. In fact, the tactics of Mr. Lewis and others have only worked to marginalize the Flaggers.
The following video was filmed before Christmas on the grounds of Richmond’s Oakwood Cemetery. It is an important cemetery for those who care about the proper treatment of Confederate graves. In the video Lewis raises a Confederate flag on cemetery grounds to replace those which have mysteriously disappeared. From there he takes us inside a small office that oversees the grounds.
Lewis is clearly looking for a fight. Unfortunately for him, no one in the office has the least bit of interest in what he insists is a case of vandalism and disrespect. At the tail end of the video Lewis is encouraged to end his little stunt and leave. Even worse, I have no doubt that they did not ask the female employee for her permission to post the video. Knowing that this video was filmed before Christmas helps to place the VMFA incident in proper perspective. Given that his mild-mannered approach did not work, Lewis decided to step it up a notch in front of the museum. Again, no one cared about his crusade, but in this case he confronted the wrong people.