Tag Archives: Civil War Monuments

Nathan Bedford Forrest, Race, and Memory in Memphis

Over at the Atlantic I share some thoughts about the recent controversy in Memphis surrounding the renaming of Forrest Park.  I hope the essay at least provides a bit of historical context to this issue.  Once again, thanks to Court Carney for making my job much easier.  Tennessee’s state legislature finally passed a measure making it illegal to remove monuments and/or change the names of public places in honor of military figures.  The legislation is not affect recent changes in Memphis.  Here is a short clip from the debate in Nashville between the sponsor of the bill and Representative G.A. Hardaway of Shelby County/Memphis.

The state of Georgia is now considering similar legislation.  There is something ironic about the passage of legislation by state legislatures to protect monuments to people who supposedly fought for nothing more during the Civil War that the right to make decisions through their local governments without outside interference.

[Click here for all my posts at the Atlantic.]

Why a Monument To Forrest in Memphis in 1905?

Update: I didn’t see this one coming, but it is nice to see the SCV and NAACP working together in opposition to the Klan’s planned rally in Memphis next month.  Millar shows that he should have been included in the city’s panel to re-name Forrest Park.  Pastor Norman is quite impressive in his own right.  Last week Millar described Forrest as a “benevolent slave trader” and in his interview suggests that Forrest disbanded the Klan, which really didn’t have much to do with white supremacy to begin with.  It’s a tough sell and ultimately a losing proposition.  Regardless of how you interpret Forrest’s personal history the excerpt below clearly shows that the dedication of the monument had everything to do with Memphis’s racial climate in 1905.

A number of you have emailed me requesting additional information on the historical context of the unveiling of the Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial in Memphis in 1905.  I mentioned the other day that the best source I’ve found is Court Carney’s Journal of Southern History essay, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest” (August 2001).

According to Carney the Forrest memorial in Memphis can be traced to a number of factors, most importantly, the economic downturn that the city faced in the period immediately following the war and especially the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.  The epidemic hit the white community especially hard and by the end of the century African Americans had risen to constitute half of the city’s population.  The elite white population that was lost during the epidemic was replaced, according to Carney, by an influx of rural whites, who were much “less racially tolerant than their urban contemporaries.”

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Sons of Confederate Veterans Snubbed in Memphis

ForrestToday it is being reported that a committee has been organized to determine the new name of Forrest Park and two other parks named in honor of the Confederacy in Memphis, Tennessee.

Members of the committee include:

  • Council members Bill Boyd and Harold Collins, Co-chairmen
  • Reverend Keith Norman, Sr. Pastor of First Baptist Broad, current president of the NAACP
  • Jimmy Ogle, current president of the Shelby County Historical Commission
  • Larry Smith, Deputy Director of Parks & Neighborhoods for the City of Memphis
  • Michael Robinson, Chairman of African & African American Studies, LeMoyne Owen College [website indicates that he is a professor of social work]
  • Dr. Douglas Cupples, longtime professor, Department of History, University of Memphis

As the report indicates, notably absent is any representation from the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  This is a huge mistake.  Yes, spokesmen such as Lee Millar have made some absurd claims about Forrest, but the SCV is an important stakeholder in this discussion and their perspective deserves to be heard.  The Memphis City Council should embrace every opportunity to openly discuss the relevant historical, social, and racial issues surrounding these public parks and their continued maintenance.  Keeping the SCV out of these discussions will only fuel suspicion and outrage among a certain demographic.  I for one would love to see the SCV make the case for their preferred position to the entire city of Memphis.

With this latest news it looks like the city council has taken a giant leap backward.

Welcome to Forrest – Wells Park

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.

Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, 2012

From the video description:

For thirty two days, voices of veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars animated a bronze commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln that has stood silently in Union Square Park since 1870.

The memories and feelings of ordinary Americans spoke through Lincoln as part of an outdoor public art installation by Krzysztof Wodiczko, an artist renowned for his large-scale light projections on architectural facades and monuments. Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection marked a return of sorts to Manhattan for the artist, whose last monumental work here was the influential and still often cited Homeless Project (1988).

“As our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, this commemorative statue, commissioned just a few years after the Civil War, again becomes a place for dialogue about war,” says Micaela Martegani, founding director of More Art. More Art, an eight-year-old organization devoted to bringing new and innovative works of art into public spaces in New York City, is the organizer of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection.

In collaboration with many New York City veterans organizations, Wodiczko has engaged with dozens of veterans and their family members over the course of several months. He filmed fourteen of the veterans and their family members for the installation of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, recording conversations about their war experiences and the toll of duty on their family life. It was these points of views, presented in each person’s own words, voice, and gestures, that were projected via sound and light onto the figure of Lincoln.

In 1988 Wodiczko used the monument at Bunker Hill in Boston to share the stories from local mothers who lost sons to street violence.