By Staff and wire reports
August 3, 2005
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton today said he does not plan to use his authority to rename three parks with ties to the Confederacy. At a morning press conference, Herenton said he was interested in moving the city forward, not burying the history of the Old South.
"We do not need another event that portrays the city as racially polarized and fighting the Civil War all over again…We have a national image that must be protected," Herenton said. "Digging up and moving graves and renaming city parks is not the proper way to deal with the issue. We don’t want to create a spectacle for the national media."
Instead, Herenton said he would recommend to the Memphis City Council that it:
# Convey Confederate and Jefferson Davis parks to the Riverfront Development for public purposes.
# Convey Forrest Park to UT for purposes of university
# Not vote on renaming parks because a vote would be racially polarized and further divide the community.
The topic has stirred considerable emotions and debate since it was first proposed months ago by County Commissioner Walter Bailey.
Critics, many of whom are black, argue that Confederate, Davis and Forrest parks honor those who supported slavery and fought to destroy the Union. After the Civil War, Forrest was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Others, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of Forrest’s descendants, argue that the parks represent a part of the city’s history and should be left alone.
As an example of the kind of publicity that could result, Herenton held up a letter "from some guy in the Ku Klux Klan" that threatened demonstrations if Forrest’s statue is moved. The letter said a funeral for Forrest would be held "in full KKK regalia."
The graves of Forrest and his wife were relocated beneath his statue when the park was named for him 100 years ago. Proponents of changing the park names and moving the statues have also promised protests and have invited such activists as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to join them.
The Center City Commission, a group that promotes downtown development, asked the City Council last month to rename the parks. Initially, it was believed the Memphis City Council had power to change park names and the issue was scheduled for a debate later this month. But Tuesday the council’s lawyer said that power rested with the city administration.
Herenton said the medical school wants Forrest Park, but the university has not said what it would do with it. It was also unclear if the city can legally give away Confederate and Davis parks since they are on a strip of land that Memphis’ founders signed over to the city in the early 1800s to be used as a "public promenade."
If the university or the development corporation want to rename the parks, "that’s their decision," Herenton said. "But the mayor represents a city," he added. "I may not give you my views on whether they should be renamed or not, but the city of Memphis should not rename these parks."
Copyright 2005 – commercialappeal.com