Tag Archives: Nathan B. Forrest

Memphis’s Southern Heritage

Letter-to-the-editor in Memphis’s The Commercial Appeal:

I can’t express how much I agree with the writer of the Feb. 7 letter “No honors for traitors.” I, too, am a native white Southerner and Memphian. My great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy. That’s my family’s history; it’s not something about which I boast. He never bought or sold human beings, as Nathan Bedford Forrest did, but he fought against the United States to divide this country. It’s done and cannot be changed. I don’t know much about this man, but I do know he came back from the war and became a minister. Maybe the war changed him, as many claim that Forrest changed.

It doesn’t alter the fact that both these men fought for the right to hold humans as property, and were willing to split the country to see to it that slavery was extended into the new territories. Don’t give me the bunk about “states’ rights.” The South has a miserable history of treating African-Americans with cruelty and injustice, decades after the South lost the war…

Ku Klux Klan to Rally For One of Their Own

Fort Pillow

It should come as no surprise that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a rally to protest the renaming of Forrest Park in Memphis, Tennessee.  Organizers expect thousands to attend.  If this protest does materialize with substantial numbers it will present something of a conundrum for Southern heritage advocates who believe that Forrest’s significance to American history can and ought to be understood independently of his role as a wealthy slave trader, commanding general at Fort Pillow and early organizer of the Klan.

Heritage advocates might find it difficult to align themselves with the Klan even though they both hope to achieve the same goal.  They can also stand with the majority of the city of Memphis and the rest of the country, but in doing so it seems to me that they assist in making the case for the change of name.  The Klan intends to celebrate its heritage and it is going to be a tough sell to argue that they don’t have history on their side.

“Forrest Was Known As a Very Humane Slave Trader”

2_ABDUL_VAS_KKDK-1

Image by Abdul Vas

It comes down to this: Southern heritage advocates are their own worst enemies.  We can see this clearly at work in last night’s decision on the part of the Memphis City Council to change the names of three parks named in honor of the Confederacy.  Forrest Park is at center stage.  In an interview with a local news reporter, Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had this to say in defense of Forrest:

Forrest was known as a very humane slave trader…. He never split families.

That, my friends, is a morally bankrupt position.  What I find truly startling, however, is that anyone would go ahead and actually make this point on television for public consumption.  Millar certainly deserves some kind of award.  At least H.K. Edgerton decided to leave the costume at home.  Their only hope last night was that the state government would step in with legislation that would make it illegal to change the names of parks named after military leaders.  You gotta love the irony in that.  :-)

Regardless of whether they like it or not, it’s time for Confederate heritage advocates to adopt a new strategy.  No one should have been surprised by the council’s decision, least of all the SCV.  They should have from the beginning jumped on board with a name change that added Ida B. Wells to the park.  Now they stand to lose Forrest completely from the landscape.

And when you say idiotic things about “human slave traders” you deserve to lose it all.

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.

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.