Confederate controversy spurs Memphis mayor’s call for park naming process

By Kevin McKenzie
Posted February 12, 2013

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton on Tuesday called for a city ordinance to guide the naming of city parks in the wake of a City Council decision to rename three parks that honored the Confederate side of the Civil War.

"My personal philosophy is that we always need more history," Wharton told a Memphis Rotary Club audience.

"You don’t correct history by taking stuff out of it; you correct it by putting more into it," Wharton said.

One week ago, the City Council voted to change the name of Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park, Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park and Confederate Park to Memphis Park.

Wharton said he cannot veto the council’s action because it was made in the form of a resolution, not an ordinance.

The mayor said he had spoken with one City Council member, whom he did not identify, who had agreed not to rush the issue. However, the news of a bill in Nashville that might bar renaming parks statewide triggered the council’s swift action.

Wharton gave as an example of focusing on "more history" a previously unannounced plan to have a plaza honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included as part of a proposed, federally funded Heritage Trail Community Redevelopment Plan.

"So as opposed to spending a lot of time getting rid of something, let’s give more prominence to everybody’s contributions," Wharton said.

The park controversy erupted earlier this year after city officials removed a 1,000-pound granite marker bearing the name of the Forrest Park. A statue and grave of Confederate general Nathan Bedford have been the centerpiece of the city park, which is bordered by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans and Shelby County Historical Commission contended a former Memphis Park Services director approved the marker, but city officials said no formal approval had been made and removed it to storage.

Lee Millar, a local spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a member of the historical commission, said that tourism has increased with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the marker was to help identify the park.

Millar applauded Wharton’s support for more history, but said a lot of hoopla might have been avoided had he spoken out earlier and still hoped that Wharton would restore the park names.

Wharton said a state of detente had existed between people who liked Forrest Park and those who loathed it, but placement of the marker broke the detente and triggered complaints.

He said that like state and county government, Memphis should come up with a process by ordinance determining "once and for all how we name our parks."

© 2013 Memphis Commercial Appeal

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