Liberating Forrest Park

Opponents of the name changes of three downtown parks are the ones in favor of whitewashing history.

| February 14, 2013
Forrest Park
Forrest Park

There's been a recognition lately of a troubling trend with regards to the South.

For Salon.com, historian Michael Lind writes of a political shift now marginalizing the South and puts this "demographic demise" and its attendant freakout among white Southern conservatives in a historical context.

For The New York Review of Books, Atlanta-born author Garry Wills laments that "[t]he South defeats its own cause when it cannot discriminate between the good and the evil in its past, or pretends that the latter does not linger on into the present."

Perhaps starting it all, journalist George Packer, in The New Yorker, appraises a renewed isolation of the once-"New" South, noting that "[e]very demographic and political trend that helped to re-elect Barack Obama runs counter to the region's self-definition." Packer ends by imploring Southerners to "[take] up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen."

It's Packer's plea that I can't shake in the face of the latest flap surrounding Memphis' Confederate parks and monuments, because the state legislators in Nashville who forced the Memphis City Council's hand last week, hastening the inevitable renaming of these parks, are heralds of this isolation. As are the Sons of Confederate Veterans who prompted them. As are the neo-Confederates and more mundane complainants who infest the quagmire of online comment threads on the subject.

The parks issue is essentially a localized proxy war in a larger conflict over the past, present, and future of Southern identity. Memphis' Confederate parks and monuments, like most remaining emblems of the Confederacy throughout the South, are essentially political. They were not and are not about remembering the Civil War but were and are symbols of resistance to what came after, namely the long, hard slog toward the equality that the Confederacy was organized to deny. Anyone clinging to long-corrupted memories of the Confederacy in 2013 is not doing so out of a respect for history or fealty to ancestors but out of their own present resistance to changing demographics and other impingements of modernity.

The most common and most eye-rolling complaint about the prospect of renaming these parks or removing these monuments is the contention that to do so is to erase or whitewash history. In fact, that's exactly what the parks and monuments were designed to do.

This suggestion is an affront to the very notion of historical seriousness. As if these inherently political 20th-century monuments to racist defiance are somehow akin to the sacred battlefields of Shiloh or Gettysburg. The monuments are part and parcel with the immediate attempt by the Confederacy and its descendants to rewrite the meaning of the war. And few were so flagrant in this regard as Jefferson Davis, whose three years living in Memphis late in life in no way justify the blight of his visage along Front Street today.

It's difficult to get past something you've been unwilling to go through. But maybe one way to do both is to alter our conception of the war. From a contemporary Southern viewpoint, it's well past time to finally see the Civil War for what it ultimately was — not a war of loss but of liberation. And not just for the third of the Southern population — the descendants of whom have every bit as much a claim to "Southern heritage" as anyone — who were liberated from literal bondage. But for the white South as well, which was liberated — at a terrible cost and with, it turned out, too deliberate speed — from the dehumanizing bonds of a slave society.

The monuments and parks, as presently constituted, do not reveal history — real history. They mask it. Glorifying the Confederacy is not an affront to African-American sensibility. It's an affront to modern sensibility. And reclaiming this history and correcting the record about our past is crucial to our present and future. History belongs to us all. And any answer to the parks issue — and with Forrest Park, at least, there are no easy answers — should be rooted in a true, inclusive reckoning with history.

Those who can't handle this will, in time, be left further behind. But we can't let the South — the "New" South, the modern South, our South — be left behind with them. 

Chris Herrington is the music and film editor of the Flyer.

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Comments (40)

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Wonderfully said. The ignorant masses are dying out, and I pray that there are not young people replacing them.

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Posted by priceless109 on 02/14/2013 at 5:13 AM

Priceless, there are. Just not as many as before.

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Posted by Jeff on 02/14/2013 at 7:43 AM

I would further substantiate this article by Chris Herrington by pointing out that Forrest's statue on Health Sciences Park is a larger-than-life Bronze statue. This demonstrates that Memphis society of the very early 20th century wanted to submit General Forrest to the world as nothing less than its HERO. General Forrest's rise to prominence within business as well as the Military establishment - in spite of his lack of West Point or other Academic Credentials, embodies the brutality, racism, anti-intellectualism, defiance, and belligerence of the citizens of Memphis of that time.

Truth be told, there are many options for today's descendants of white southern peasant settlers to submit to the world as their hero. We are, after all, the city of Elvis Presley. Forrest is one of the worse options for such.

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Posted by Ephren Tinoco on 02/14/2013 at 9:24 AM

Priceless,

You hit the nail on the head. I've always said you can't change ideas or ideologies very easily. The only way ignorant ideas truly change is through passing of generations, and that's partially dependent on how much effort the passing generations put into passing along their own prejudices and ideals to the next generation, at least in terms of the spectrum used to view others. That goes for everyone from the older generations, those that were oppressing and the oppressed.

Both create their own unique spectrum on society.

As a parent with young kids, I've recently come to this issue myself. How do I educate my children on the accuracy of history and simultaneously teach them to view the world through a spectrum with as little prejudice as possible?

My experience so far is that the best way to handle it is to present the facts. In most cases, my children, through their own life experiences, are shocked to see how people behaved in the past, and the world of 150 or even 50 years ago seems like a foreign land. With that shock as a basis, it is easy to then explain how things have changed for the better and shape the prism for them to view the world of today.

If we raise our children to see a boogie man or to judge others based on things that have nothing to do with their character as a person, we are doing them a disservice. Our goal, as a society, should be to raise our children to be better than we were, just as our parents raised us to be better than they were the generation before.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 02/14/2013 at 10:29 AM

ArlingtonPOP

When I essentially said the same as this article, you derided me, Clarion and others along with you. Well, why don't you deride the author and this article?

Clarion, the fact that one gets so many dislikes for their post does not mean that their post is wrong, maybe, just maybe, it is those people that push, dislike are the ones who are wrong. To try to judge the worth of a post on a public forum by the number of likes and/or dislikes just goes to show your limited intelligience.

AP, that is why, when you and others adamantly say that the only reason you want your own school district is because of the kids, and the lack of quality of the Memphis Schools. I think that you outwardly believe this, however, deep within your soul, there is a sense of latent racism. Hell, you and others are probably not even aware of it.

I am not trying to dismiss history, for it is what it is, however I don't want to see monuments thrown up as heroes, glorifying a period that was cruel and unjust. That does not detract from the battles and the sites where they were fought. I have respect for the battles of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta, etc, however I don't glorify them regardless of who won the battles. If one wants to be true to the history of Forest, put up a monument showing him, whip in hand, lording over cowered slaves in chains.

Ap, Clarion, Grove, GWCarver and others, you are really cowards, feasting on the acolades of like minded readers of these posts. It is not that you are so eloquent or even right, it is just that most of the readers of this forum that will respond think like you. The silent majority very seldom publically post. It is just like this last past presidential election, all of the noise was made by the raucus GOP, but the silent majority showed up and actually voted, voiced their preference.

You are quick to say that I am filled with hate, but, I understand that is just your way of trying to justify your own feeling of guilt. Three hundred years of cruel, inhumane and unequal treatment can't be wiped away in 40 or 50 so years, just because you say everything is alright now. You know that and I know that. How long did it take the European White Race to rebound from the dark ages?

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/14/2013 at 11:11 AM

OTP- Comparing the "Dark Ages" to the practice of slave holding in the United States is like comparing apples and asteroids.

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Posted by barf on 02/14/2013 at 11:36 AM

If yesterdays CA article detailing AC's comments were flipped for another lost evil cause:
The mayor of Berlin, Germany 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 German forces from WW2.
"My personal philosophy is that we always need more history," the mayor told a Berlin Rotary Club audience.
"You don't correct history by taking stuff out of it; you correct it by putting more into it," the mayor said.
One week ago, the City Council voted to change the name of Hitler Park to Health Sciences Park, Adolf Hitler Park to River Park and Nazi Nazi Park to Berlin Park.
The Mayor said he cannot veto the council's action because it was made in the form of a resolution, not an ordinance.
"So as opposed to spending a lot of time getting rid of something, let's give more prominence to everybody's contributions," the Mayor said.
The park controversy erupted earlier this year after city officials removed a 1,000-pound granite marker bearing the name of the Hitler Park. A statue and grave of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler has been the centerpiece of the city park, which is bordered by the Berlin Health Science Center.
The Sons of Nazi Veterans and Berlin Historical Commission contended a former Berlin Park Services director approved the marker, but city officials said no formal approval had been made and removed it to storage.
Hans Miller, a local spokesman for the Sons of Nazi Veterans and a member of the historical commission, said that tourism has increased with the recent anniversary of the War and the marker was to help identify the park.
Millar applauded the Mayors support for more history, but said a lot of hoopla might have been avoided had he spoken out earlier and still hoped that the Mayor would restore the Nazi names.
Always a leader the Mayor said a state of detente had existed between people who liked Hitler 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, Berlin should come up with a process by ordinance determining "once and for all how we name our parks."

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Posted by We Need A New Mayor on 02/14/2013 at 11:41 AM

Glad to know I'm a coward and a racist.

For the record I never look at the like/dislike counts on a post, though I would bet much of that is your silent majority weighing in with their thoughts. Since I actually comment, I don't have to like or dislike a post. It's usually pretty clear my opinion.

As I said, the only way to erase prejudice is for it to die off with generations, and that prejudice dies a quicker death the less we pass along to our children.

I have my prejudices, everyone does. It's human nature, but I refuse to pass any of those along to my children. They will develop their own prejudices based on what they experience in life. I just hope it's better for their generation than mine.

I know my generation had better experience than yours when it comes to prejudice and discrimination. Our children will hopefully have an even better world.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 02/14/2013 at 11:49 AM

@OTP

Your anger is misplaced, along with your recent memory.

I never took any position on the parks or the statue. As a mattter of fact, I don't really care one way or the other. As I said: Take it down, leave it up, move it, I don't care. I can't see that my life is going to be affected in any way.

I do appreciate the psychoanalysis. You are a wonder, being so competent in all subjects. Law, Sociology, Education, Political Prognostication. Now it is Psychiatry. And able to make a diagnosis without examination! And at a distance too! Of course it is entirely possible that this is nothing more than Projection on your part, Dr. OTP. Did you cover that phenomenon in your studies?

Other than that, your rant is rather weak, tiresome, self-serving, and a bit sad. All the psychobabble in the world will not make it any stronger.

I cannot make myself feel guilty over the actions of others, particularly actions taken before I was born. I do understand that some sort of collective white racial guilt, ongoing and neverending, is necessary for you, but I just cannot make myself subscribe to it. I am curious, though. Did you pick up that collective racial guilt idea in Germany while you were hiding there to avoid combat duty in Vietnam? Did the Germans inspire you in that?

I really don't have to make any accusations about hate and I won't. Your words speak for themselves.

I really don't get the relevance of you last remark. There was Civil Rights Act that started the Renaissance?

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 02/14/2013 at 11:51 AM

AP, you fully understand. You have always understood.

For any person that not tell their children the truth about why, they as a race, got where they got in the context of history does their children a disservice. It is not enough to say what used to be without telling them how generations hence got to be where they are and why some are behind.

I have not accused you or anyone else of personally doing anything to anybody. What I have said is that you refuse to admit that the advantages that your predecessors had is a part of where you are now and that advantage cannot be washed away by laws passed 40 or 50 years ago and still not vigourously enforced today.

My children, to my knowledge are not prejudiced, however, it is a fact that they, in their own right have been confronted by racism and favortism in the work place, social life, etc. They all make good salaries now, however, they have been passed over for promotions and/or jobs by less qualified individuals who just happened to be white. But, because they understand history, they also understand what is still happening today. They don't hate, but, they have a resentment that, after all of these years, a more perfect union has not beeen accomplished.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/14/2013 at 12:21 PM

"They all make good salaries now, however, they have been passed over for promotions and/or jobs by less qualified individuals who just happened to be white."

OTP- I would expect that in your many years here on this earth that you would have realized by now that almost everyone who is ever passed over for a promotion believes they were more qualified. Or maybe- gasp- those individuals who did receive those promotions and jobs were more qualified. Yet you choose to make it about race. Glad to see your kids are following in your footsteps.

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Posted by barf on 02/14/2013 at 12:43 PM

@OTP

Of course I understand.

I understand that keeping collective racal guilt alive is very useful to you. I understand that your children are educated, doing vey well, and yet you continue to whine about past injustices that my generation had no part in. If those attitudes existed today, your children would be doing manual labor. Can we at least agree that your children's success shows things have changed in the last 50 years?

I understand that calling people cowards during your rants does little to persuade any reader that your argument is correct. Name calling is a sure sign the writer is losing and knows it. It is a debater's last resort and predictably yours as well.

I also understand that prejudice is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Maybe your kids were passed over for promotions because of racism. Maybe they were passed over for other reasons. Being a father, I understand that kids make poor witnesses for themselves, as indeed do we all. Maybe they have suffered in their social life because they inherited your belligerence, I don't know. Unless you are a bigger part of their social life than I think, neither do you.

I must say that I found your complaint that they were past over for jobs that went to less qualified white people as more than amusing, given the number of white people who complain about the same thing as a result of Affirmative Action. Please, no bullshit about leveling the playing field or such. Those white people hurt in those actions were not guilty of any offense except being white. They were wronged, even though some think it was for a good reason.

I also understand that there is a big difference in understanding and appreciating history and being a slave to it. The use of the word slave in this context is intentional on my part. Sadly, it is a slavery of your own making and keeping. If anything is evident in your postings, it is that those chains you wear were forged yourself.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 02/14/2013 at 12:52 PM

@OTP

There is one more thing I understand. I understand you have a choice which your ancestors did not.

You may choose to glower at the world and wear your resentment on your sleeve for all to see.

Or, you can celebrate that his country, the South included, has come into the light, that this is a new day, and that your children are products of this new day where their ability and hard work are rewarded.

I am, unfortunately, not optimistic about which choice you will make.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 02/14/2013 at 1:36 PM

I'm believe Godwin's Law should apply to the "Hitler Park" comment, but it is hard to criticize someone whose handle is a sentence.

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Posted by GWCarver on 02/14/2013 at 1:47 PM

AP,

It seemed to me that you took a position on the parks issue, just the other day actually. Were you arguing in bad faith?

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Posted by clegg on 02/14/2013 at 1:56 PM

@Clegg

I believe I said, just the other day, that I didn't care one way or another what the City does with the statue.

Came right out and said that.

I regret it seems another that way to you, and you assume that your "seems" is a rational basis for a charge of bad faith toward another.

And I have to go and do use some useful work, so I cannot fight until later.

Be well.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 02/14/2013 at 2:08 PM

AP,

I just read through our conversation the other day and I saw no such statement, did you write that on another story?

This is the one I was referring to:

http://www.memphisflyer.com/CityBeatBlog/a…

And I didn't make a charge, I asked a question. Why did you defend keeping the statue if you don't care about keeping it? Doesn't make much sense.

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Posted by clegg on 02/14/2013 at 2:39 PM

@barf,

You make very valid points, and I know of people of all races that feel that they were passed over due to their race, either because a minority was hired, or because a white person was hired.

The ones in particular that I loved were when Larry Finch and Nolan Richardson were fired from their respective positions as basketball coaches at Memphis State and Arkansas. Both Finch and Richardson hinted that race was an issue. However, Memphis State hired Tic Price as Finch's replacement and Arkansas hired Stan Heath as Richardson's replacement.

Ironically, Price and Heath were both horrible hires that could never live up to Finch or Richardson, but I point that out to illustrate the point that very often, people that are conditioned to see racism will see it when it doesn't even exist.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 02/14/2013 at 3:05 PM

Grove

You pick two cases out of millions and think that does it.

You, too, know better than that.

I would think that these major companies that have been and are under suit for employment and promotion discrimination is just a pipe dream.

You can fool youself but you can't fool the rest of us. It is still happening and is more prevalient than anyone wants to admit.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 02/14/2013 at 3:44 PM

My point in picking out two cases is to show that there are a good number of people that see race as an issue when it isn't.

I'm not saying it never happens. I'm confident it does, because there are ignorant people out there, but just because someone says race was the issue doesn't always make it so.

However, you do bring up a good point about the EEOC suits. Those have had a great impact on most major businesses. In fact, most corporations make an effort to take care of minority and women candidates for positions. Some have stated goals for minority/female participation in management and executive positions, and they will spout to the public about their diversity in management and executive roles. Many have policies regarding inclusion of minority/female candidates in interview pools as well.

The EEOC has done a lot of good work, and that work will never be over, because someone will always break the rules no matter how much progress is made. That's just a fact of life, and it doesn't apply just to discrimination, though the EEOC is there to protect all classes from discrimination in employment. That applies even to men and Caucasians. If you discriminate against me and refuse to hire me because of my race, I can sue you, and the EEOC will fight just as vigorously for me as anyone else.

Point being, you aren't going to find utopia. It doesn't exist and will never exist, but our society recognizes and actively tries to stop discrimination when it is legitimate. That's all that can be done until, as I've said, generations pass and ignorance becomes even more relegated to the fringes of society than it is today.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 02/14/2013 at 4:38 PM

I've started the Tony Allen statue fund.

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Posted by 38103 on 02/14/2013 at 6:11 PM

^^^
WINNER

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Posted by Chris Herrington on 02/14/2013 at 7:13 PM

One thing's for sure, a Tony statue wouldn't be offensive (pun intended).

Now the hard part would be justifying Tony in statue form, considering I don't know that anyone has ever seen Tony sit still.

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Posted by GroveReb84 on 02/14/2013 at 7:36 PM

"I think what we need here is more history" - AC channeling Samuel L Jackson in Django Unchained

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Posted by I am a man on 02/14/2013 at 8:09 PM

@clegg

It was on the other thread which you might go back and read if you wish providing and can find it.
My first post on the thread you mention is that I was not advocating about the statue one way or the other, which speaks for itself. Certainly these two posts together should describe my position, but if you are still concerned for some reason come back and we will talk some more.

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Posted by ArlingtonPop on 02/14/2013 at 8:11 PM
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