Update on Nathan Bedford Forrest Park Controversy

344px-Forrest_&_Maples_listingThis 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.

Think of the interpretive possibilities: a woman who fought for civil rights and worked tirelessly to bring an end to lynchings alongside a slave-trader, Confederate general responsible for one of the largest massacres during the Civil War and member of the KKK.  If Forrest did make an honest overture toward the black community at the very end of his life than it should, in some way, be acknowledged.  Does he deserve to be celebrated for it?  No.

The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Flaggers

I had no idea that there is now a chapter of Flaggers in North Carolina.  It would be a stretch to draw any type of formal connection with the Flaggers in Virginia. It’s the same inane rhetoric about a subject they apparently know very little about.  In this case, it’s a new exhibit about Lincoln on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  These people have nothing to say about the actual exhibit beyond vague accusations of Lincoln as a war criminal.  Kirk Lyons (misspelled by the media as Lion) and H.K. Edgerton were in attendance, but all they can manage is the same old dog and pony show that has become their trademark.

It looks like some of the students had a good laugh at their expense.

H.K. Edgerton Entertains the Old White South One Last Time

Not too long ago I suggested that H.K. Edgerton’s performance is geared to and best received by white Southerners, who find vindication in his narrative of slavery as a benign institution and the peaceful co-existence of the races during the antebellum period and through the war into Reconstruction and beyond.   Today I learned that H.K. is going to retrace his steps on this 10th anniversary of his famous trek across the South.

Continue reading “H.K. Edgerton Entertains the Old White South One Last Time”

H.K. Edgerton Addresses Confederate Youth…I Mean, Kids

This video just came across my YouTube feed and it’s a winner.  This one features Edgerton addressing a group of kids at the 8th Annual Confederate Heritage Youth Day in Clover, S.C. this past weekend.  This has got to be one of H.K.’s most incoherent presentations.  At times I can’t tell what he is talking about.  One kid looks horrified and the others just look amused and/or perplexed.

A Black Confederate Without the Black Ancestor

Willie Levi Casey

I am making my way through a small collection of essays in Thomas Brown’s Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).  Fitz Brundage opens his essay on African American artists, who have interpreted the Civil War in recent years, with a reference to Willie Levi Casey.  You can see Casey in the image to the right and while I’ve seen it on a number of websites, up until now I didn’t know anything about his background.

While Casey is dressed to commemorate those black men who “served” in Confederate ranks and “support preserving Southern history and telling it the way it is,” his connection to the war does not end with a black individual at all.  Here is an excerpt from one news item that I found online:

Casey’s persona as a re-enactor is a free black cabinetmaker from eastern Tennessee, able to read and write, with a wife and a child at home. But he has a real-life link to the Confederacy as well–one he always vaguely knew about but pinned down only in recent years.  Casey grew up in Cross Anchor, S.C., in the 1960s and ’70s. It was an area full of Caseys, black and white.  He and his siblings knew they had a white great-grandfather, a man who had never married their American Indian/African-American great-grandmother even though they had six children together.  A family photo of the couple’s son Barney Casey shows a bulky man in overalls with lank gray hair and white skin. He’s Willie Casey’s grandfather.  Willie Casey was well into adulthood when he decided to research the white side of his family.  In the course of his genealogical effort he came across the Civil War record of one Pvt. Martin Luther Casey, a South Carolina soldier killed in 1862. That man was the older brother of Casey’s great-grandfather.  Being a collateral relative of a Civil War soldier qualified Casey for membership in the SCV.

Interestingly, websites maintained by H.K. Edgerton and J.R. Vogel conveniently overlook the fact that Casey’s ancestor is not black.

OK, so I readily admit that I am confused.  On the one hand Casey was accepted into the SCV based on his connection to the brother of his great-grandfather.  The living interpretation that he adopts for reenactments and other events, however, is based on a fictional character whose connection to history is tenuous at best.

I guess what I am having trouble understanding is that in his effort to ‘tell it the way it is’ he ignores what has to be a fascinating Civil War legacy in the story of his great-grandfather and great-grandmother.  Why doesn’t Casey do the necessary research to interpret the offspring of his great-grandparents?  That would go much further in challenging the public to expand their understanding of slavery and race relations at a critical point in American history. I am sure the SCV would be more than happy to accommodate such a living memory of one’s Civil War ancestors.

Instead, we are presented with nothing more than the same tired commentary that reinforces outdated tropes that paint the Confederacy as some kind of experiment in civil rights.

[Image Source: The Free Lance-Star]