A statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest stands in Forrest Park in Memphis, Tenn., in this 2005 file photo.
(Photo: Lance Murphey, The Commercial Appeal, AP)
The Memphis city council has hurriedly renamed three Confederate-themed parks, including one named after the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, to head off an effort by some state legislators to block such name changes.
The council on Tuesday passed a resolution to immediately rename Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park in downtown Memphis and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, which lies just a few miles away. The vote was 9-0 with three members abstaining.
The resolution changes the name of Confederate Park to Memphis Park; Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park; and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park.
Forrest, a Confederate general and cavalry leader, was a slave trader before the war and the KKK's first Grand Wizard. He also is accused of massacring dozens of black Union soldiers who tried to surrender at the battle at Fort Pillow in 1864. Davis was president of the confederacy.
"The parks are changed. It's done," said Councilman Lee Harris, The Commercial Appeal reported. "We removed controversial names and named them something that is less controversial."
The new names may be only temporary until more permanent names are chosen, the Memphis Daily News reported.
Council members made no secret of their attempt to vote for and finalize the move, which normally would require three hearings, in order to beat an attempt by two state lawmakers in Nashville to block such name changes.
The city council even voted to approve its minutes Tuesday to prevent the measure from being reconsidered at its next meeting.
The "Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013" bill, already introduced in the state legislature, would prohibit name changes to any "statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display,school, street, bridge,building, park preserve, or reserve which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of, any historical military figure,historical military event, military organization, or military unit" on public property, according toThe Memphis Flyer.
The bill specifically included the "War Between the States," in its language, a reference to the view that the Civil War was fought between two separate countries.
Memphis council member Shea Flinn said his vote to change the park names was prompted by "the ironic war of aggression from our northern neighbors in Nashville," the Daily News reported.
Long-simmering disputes over the names of the parks came to a head last month when the city removed a recently installed half-ton, $10,000 granite marker installed at Forrest Park by The Sons of Confederate Veterans, The Commercial Appeal noted.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and others in Memphis opposed the name changes, saying that Forrest is a misunderstood figure who was not a racist but a businessman who treated his slaves humanely and resigned from the Klan.
"We should cherish the history that we have, we shouldn't cover it up and try to bury it or hide it," said Becky Muska, who spoke against the name change at the council meeting, the Associated Press reported.
Muska, who is white, acknowledges that Memphis is a racially divided city. So does Kennith Van Buren, a civil rights advocate who supports the name changes, the AP noted.
"These three parks have a racial history that should be erased," said Van Buren, who is black. "These parks are an embarrassment to our city."
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY