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.

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2 comments… add one
  • Lyle Smith Feb 6, 2013 @ 8:34

    Of all the historical figures to utilize as representative of living a good life, is Forrest really the best we can do?

    Forrest was an exceptional human being in a lot of ways. He is a quintessential American success story of growing up on the frontier, and making something for himself and his family out of practically nothing. He then goes on to be this super soldier during the Civil War, rises to the level of Lt. General, and somehow survives the war. By the end of it all plenty of Yankees have a lot of respect for him.

    So in the eyes of probably a majority of white southerners at the end of the Civil War he’s some kind of hero. He’s one of the best they’ve got. He’s someone to celebrate among the detritus of the Confederacy. He’s someone to ask to lead this new Ku Klux Klan group and to go politic up North for the preservation of white supremacy.

    So, he was a slave owning slave trader? That was perfectly legal and made him wealthy. So, he was a white supremacist? That makes him one among many. So, he used violence against blacks and whites? Not at all extraordinary for the times and was effectively legal. He was like a poor man’s George Washington during his day.

    Although hard it’s quite possible to mentally segregate Forrest’s white supremacist life from his achievements as a man. We do this with Washington and Jefferson, and some people do it with Forrest.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 6, 2013 @ 8:55

      You can certainly make that argument, though it doesn’t come off as a very strong statement in support of the kind of lionization that Forrest has enjoyed. In the end it doesn’t really matter what I think. This is a matter for the people of Memphis to decide. I’ve said it before, but what I value is the fact that we now live at a time where the entire community can voice their concern through their local elected officials if they so choose.
      That certainly was not the case when the Forrest monument was first dedicated. One wonders what our commemorative landscapes might look like if they had not been shaped at a time when many people were disfranchised.

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