Frankly, we have thought that the ongoing fuss over the existing names of certain downtown parks has been misguided. No change of name is going to eradicate the fact that, once upon a time, there was a Confederate States of America, nor that Memphis and Tennessee belonged to that short-lived and ill-fated experiment in nationhood.

The founders of the Confederacy were not “traitors” (as one normally reasonable local official has declared), any more than were the Founding Fathers in their earlier declaration of independence from Great Britain. They made no allegiances to a foreign power. Their sin — a grievous one, and grievously answered — was commitment to the ignoble institution of slavery. This fact stains the honor and the memory of Jefferson Davis and General Nathan Bedford Forrest and the 13-state Confederacy as a whole. But it would be petty, as well as historically inaccurate, to ignore the extraordinary tenacity and heroism evinced by the aforementioned in that tragic event known as the American Civil War.

The bottom line is that Davis and Forrest and the Confederacy are all, indelibly, part of our history. To ignore that fact and to rename three downtown parks, as some propose, in order to conceal it is pointless. It is the kind of historical revisionism practiced by the late, unlamented Soviet Union, characterized by officially sanctioned photo-cropping and “purges” of historical figures who did not fit the party narrative. As state senator Steve Cohen wisely observed in his dissent from other Center City Commission members’ decision to pass the name-change proposition on to the City Council: “That’s history. … Nobody can debate that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Memphian.” And he noted that Ramesses the Great, prominently commemorated in a statue in front of The Pyramid, had been a tyrant who enslaved Cohen’s Jewish ancestors in ancient Egypt.

Putting all this in even greater perspective was a subsequent suggestion made — with evident seriousness — by local businessman Karl Schledwitz, who proposed uprooting Forrest and his wife, along with the well-known statue of the general mounted on his steed, and moving them to Elmwood Cemetery. Aside from the ghoulishness of this — just imagine the clanking machinery showing up on NBC Nightly News as the disinterral got under way — it is hard to imagine an action that would be more inflammatory to the sensibilities of those Memphians who would oppose such a dramatic alteration in the city’s landscape. And make no mistake: This would be an ugly fight and would bring the worst possible kind of attention to Memphis. Just this week, at its national convention in Nashville, the Sons of Confederate Veterans pledged $10,000 to wage a legal battle against the removal of Confederate monuments in Memphis. Is this really the kind of publicity that will lure an International Paper headquarters to our city? Do we really want this kind of nasty squabble to define Memphis’ image on the national news? Surely, our civic leaders have more important things to attend to.

And more constructive solutions to the current controversy are at hand. It has been suggested by some that memorials and statuaries be added to the downtown parks that would pay homage to the African-American side of our history and to its many worthy exemplars. We already pay tribute here and there to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps more is required, especially given the fact that Dr. King made his ultimate sacrifice here. And Memphis history has been graced by numerous other black heroes who could be honored by appropriate memorials.

What we need is more, and more diverse, recognition of our history — not less. We can’t progress into the future by trying to cover up the tracks of where we’ve been.

Want to respond? Send us an email here.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment



Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Jadewick

Hungry Memphis

LBOE's Champion Burger

Tiger Blue

#18 Tigers 66, SMU 45

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Indie Memphis' Greatest Hits 5: Lights, Movement, And The Zoo

News Blog

Q & A With MCA President Laura Hine

Politics Beat Blog

Cohen, 5 House Colleagues Launch Impeachment Effort Against Trump

Music Blog

Band Geeks: A Live Tribute to The Last Waltz

Politics Beat Blog

Democrat Dean, On Nashville-Memphis Back-and-Forth: "I Love I-40!"


More by Flyer Staff

Readers also liked…

  • Dear Chuck Brady ...

    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Remembering Irvin Salky: One of a Kind

    • May 18, 2017
  • Common Sense Pot Policy

    Unlike Bill Clinton, I've inhaled. So have 49 percent of all Americans, according to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Marijuana (medical or otherwise) has been decriminalized or legalized in 23 states, and measures are on the ballot to legalize it in five more states this November, including Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, and California (where medical pot is already legal). A recent Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized and regulated like alcohol ...
    • Aug 25, 2016
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation