City removal of Forrest Park marker angers Sons of Confederate Veterans

By Michael Lollar
Posted January 8, 2013

The city and the Sons of Confederate Veterans began a mini Civil War on Tuesday over the city’s removal without warning of a half-ton granite marker from the south side of Forrest Park.

Sons of Confederate Veterans spokesman Lee Millar, past chairman of the Shelby County Historical Commission, said he noticed on his way to work Tuesday morning that the marker had disappeared. Ten feet long, the marker simply said "Forrest Park."

Millar said there were no signs of damage to surrounding grass in the park on Union in the heart of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus. UT maintains the park, which is owned by the city. Since the grass wasn’t damaged, Millar said it would have taken a crane to cleanly lift the marker and its concrete base from the park. He filed a police report, but said he suspected the city was involved, because it would have been the only one with the equipment to move the 1,000-pound Tennessee granite stone.

Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little said he authorized the removal using city General Services equipment on grounds the marker had not been formally approved. Little said he did not notify anyone ahead of time because he had no idea who installed the marker, although Millar said the back side of the marker had an inscription saying it was placed by Memphis Park Services, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Shelby County Historical Commission.

Millar said he had formal approval in a letter from former Memphis Park Services director Cynthia Buchanan.

But Little said there was no indication of written approval. "I went by what I could find in terms of the written record. I’m just trying to maintain a level of fairness and consistency in terms of the way we do business around here."

The marker was installed in the park in May and dedicated in a brief ceremony in July. Millar produced a letter Tuesday dated March 21, 2011, in which Buchanan thanked him for offering to donate the granite sign for Forrest Park. "Many of our parks are without proper signage and we appreciate the Commission’s offer to provide this important signage for one of the city’s historic parks." Buchanan copied the letter to Little and to Mike Flowers, administrator of park planning and development.

Millar said the marker cost $9,000, with another $1,400 spent to install it. The marker has a concrete base with steel rods anchoring it.

The park’s centerpiece is a sometimes-controversial statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a cavalry officer who became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Little said he received no pressure to remove the marker nor complaints about it, but Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey said he had "raised holy hell about it" to both Little and Mayor A C Wharton. "I wrote him (Little) a letter, and he said he would explore the issue," said Bailey.

Bailey said the marker "only exacerbated" what he called the offensive symbolism of the statue. "I commend the administration for having the sensitivity and understanding the breadth and depth of how offensive those symbols are. They’re divisive, and we don’t need that kind of divisive symbols in 2013. Those symbols hold us back. They make a laughing stock of us. They present us as a typical Southern town that refuses to let go."

Little said the groups can reclaim the marker, or he will see to it that it is returned to them, but Millar said he expects the city to return the marker to the park on Wednesday and to foot the bill for reinstallation.

© 2013 Memphis Commercial Appeal

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