“Forrest Was Known As a Very Humane Slave Trader”

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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.

Alabama’s Civil War Memory

Selma, Alabama (1965)

I guess we should have seen this coming from a mile away.  In the wake of heated protests from their loyal fans Lynyrd Skynyrd has decided that they will fly the Confederate flag at their concerts.  And just in case you still question their commitment to the flag’s history and meaning rest assured:

Myself, the past members and the present members (that are from the South), are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights.” — Gary Rossington

I guess a southern man does need him around…at least to buy those records.

In other news, the Selma City Council has voted to halt the construction of a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest until it can be determined who owns the land on which it is to be placed.

And so it goes.