Updating the Parks 

Of all the my-way-or-the-highway matters that are real or potential flashpoint issues for this community, none is more volatile than the question of our local parks. (Nobody needs to be reminded of the ongoing controversy over the future of Shelby Farms.) But the most difficult future-tense problems may have to do with those public facilities that memorialize our past, specifically the Civil War part of it. Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy in general are invoked in two smallish but strategically located expanses overlooking the Memphis riverfront. And Nathan Bedford Forrest not only has a park named for him, he is buried there.

Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey and others, sensitive to the subsequent liberation and rise to equality-under-the-law of African Americans, believe that these local parks should be renamed to accommodate a more democratic and more contemporary sense of the total community. The subject was raised at a forum last week and generated somewhat more heat than light, as adherents of two polarized points of view chose to go after each other, almost as if performing a Civil War reenactment.

The issue resurfaced at a weekend luncheon at which Bailey and commission colleague Bruce Thompson were invited to share their thoughts. When the parks issue inevitably came up, the polarity of views was evident. But the dialogue was more productive this time - thanks largely to the Dutch Treat Luncheon's moderator, Bill Wood, who kept things polite and who has a compromise solution that makes sense.

Keep the parks with the names and statues and other appurtenances they now possess, Wood proposes, but update them with additional monuments and inscriptions that would attest to the historical heroism and suffering and accomplishments of our African-American population.

It's an idea worth considering, and a way of breaking a long-standing impasse.


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