If it is possible that there is a subject that draws more passionate mail and comment than Memphis and its NBA arena it is anything having to do with Nathan Bedford Forrest, the famous Confederate general. So it is somewhat surprising that the city administration and the University of Tennessee are putting an item on the city council's agenda next week regarding Forrest Park. The item would give the University of Tennessee at Memphis first right of refusal if the city ever decides to sell the park. City councilman John Vergos says he was asked to bring the item up for committee consideration by Pete Aviotti, special assistant to Mayor Willie Herenton. Vergos says he'll do that much, although he opposes selling off parkland in principle. Aviotti couldn't be reached for comment. But UT officials insist nothing newsy is going on and they are merely keeping their options open. UT surrounds the park on three sides and would like to build a pharmacy school building across from the park on the northwest corner of Union and Manassas, but the Tennessee Legislature did not fund the project. "We're just looking down the road," says Odell Horton Jr., vice chancellor for university relations. "To be honest, we'd like to have the park. It fits well in our master plan." But he emphasizes that he has no indications that the city plans to sell it. At any rate, UT would keep the park as green space if it ever did acquire it, Horton says. Why, then, take any action at all involving the high-profile Memphis City Council and Forrest Park? "If the city ever decides to sell it," says Horton, "it gives us an opportunity." The park features a prominent equestrian statue of Forrest, who is considered a tactical genius by no less an authority than Civil War historian and Memphis author Shelby Foote. The remains of Forrest and his wife were moved to the park in 1906 from Elmwood Cemetery. The Sons of Confederate Veterans' Forrest Camp observed the 180th anniversary of his birth last month at Forrest Park, carrying on a 96-year tradition. The fiery general who grew up near Holly Springs, where the local history museum does a brisk business in Forrest souvenirs, is still good copy because of his connection to the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest was a slave trader before the war and a Klan leader after the war but disbanded it in 1869. In the last three years, monuments to Forrest have made news in Nashville and Selma, Alabama. If the city administration is smart, it will let sleeping generals lie.

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