The council 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 sitting out the vote.
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.
The name changes upset those who believe the council is trying to change history by downplaying the significance of the Confederacy’s struggle against Union forces. It was applauded by at least one civil rights activist.
The council already had been considering changing the name of the park honoring Forrest, a Confederate cavalryman and former slave trader who was a member of the early Ku Klux Klan. 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 idea for the resolution to change the name of all three parks emerged Monday morning, after council members learned of a state House bill that would prevent parks named after historical military figures from being renamed.
The bill was seen by the council as unnecessary interference by state lawmakers. Because a House vote is likely several days away, the council voted on a resolution to remove the military names and go with more generic ones, giving them time to decide on new park names without worrying about state action.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and others in Memphis oppose 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.
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.
“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.”
Forrest Park, which is the burial place of the former Memphis resident, has long been a source of argument in Memphis. The shady, city block-sized park features a large statue of the Confederate lieutenant general, who won several key Civil War battles.
The park is located a few miles from the old Lorraine Hotel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
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