There is more to flap over Forrest

Posted January 11, 2013

Historian Lee Millar, speaking for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the West Tennessee Historical Commission, says the groups had permission from the city to place a 1,000-pound granite marker at Forrest Park and it should not have been removed.

Millar said he has a letter from former city Park Services director Cindy Buchanan backing his claim. City Chief Administrative Officer George Little said he ordered the marker removed because the group did not have permission to place it there.

He provided The Commercial Appeal a copy of the March 2011 letter he said Millar is referring to. While saying the marker seemed "appropriate in concept," the letter did not give the groups final permission to manufacture and install the sign.

On Thursday, Little said the marker would not be placed back on the site until the groups can receive a permit through the Downtown Memphis Commission, whose regulatory boundaries include the park that sits on Union between Manassas and Dunlap.

But this is an issue bigger than a simple stone marker bearing the name of the park that commemorates a Confederate war hero, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest is buried with his wife under the park’s centerpiece — a bronze statue of Forrest mounted on a horse and facing south.

Forrest, a calvary officer, was a brilliant military strategist and tactician. Modern military scholars still study his tactics of mobile warfare. He also was a slave trader, slave owner and a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, whose hooded and robed members spread terror and death among African-Americans and other groups they considered a threat to white citizens — usually in the dead of night. The Klan is a bit more sophisticated these days, having recently used the dead of night to distribute fliers in residential neighborhoods around Memphis, urging people to join the Klan.

Millar and others argue that trying to remove vestiges of the city’s Confederate past represents an ill-advised effort to erase an important part of the city’s history. He has a point, even if Memphis’ primary contribution to the conflict was to serve as a major Union supply base and command center.

Here is another historical perspective to consider. The park sits in an important section of the city — the Medical Center, which is being transformed into a biomedical research center. Anchored by the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, what is taking place there is important to the city’s economic future.

Thousands of vehicles pass Forrest Park daily. When people ask who is the man on that horse, then Forrest’s history must be told — all of it. That surely leaves the questioners wondering why a statue of Forrest occupies such an important piece of real estate in such a progressive part of the city.

2013 The E.W. Scripps Co.

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