No New Civil War, Please

Memphis needs to come to some accord over its Confederate parks.

| February 14, 2013
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- Danziger

Normally, we do not make special reference to correspondence received by periodicals other than our own and published in their spaces. (As will have been noted by readers of our letters page and comments posted to our online articles, we have our own three-ring circus going.) We make an exception in the case of a letter that appeared this week in The Commercial Appeal.

After reprising the apparent anguish of many suburbanites over the ongoing clash between proponents of a unitary public-school system and advocates of separate systems for the outer municipalities, the letter concluded thusly: "Please, will the Confederate legislators of our cities help us get out of this madness?" It's not apparent whether any irony was intended.

Newcomers to our city and county may have to be reminded that it was only some 20-odd years ago that a serious movement to secede from Shelby County erupted among several of the county's incorporated areas. "Neshoba County," to be carved out of the body of Shelby County, was talked up as a prospective new entity. Though the particulars were somewhat different, the issue, then as now, was the imminent prospect of consolidation. Eventually, the difficulties of a legal secession process, coupled with a fading away of the perceived threat, resolved the matter.

It is no secret that proposed expenditures for the soon-to-be Unified School District of Shelby County will result in staff reductions for the schools of the former Shelby County Schools system — as, for that matter, for the schools of the former Memphis City Schools system. This circumstance, largely born of economic conditions unrelated to educational or jurisdictional matters per se, has exacerbated the discontent of the suburbanites who willingly voted tax increases for themselves as the cost of providing their own school systems.

The rub, of course, is that those systems are — at least in the short run — not to be, inasmuch as U.S. district judge Hardy Mays ruled fast-track legislation for them unconstitutional on grounds that they didn't apply statewide. Both proponents and opponents of the municipal school districts regard it as likely that Mays may rule likewise in the case of earlier legislation making Shelby County-only MSDs possible in the long run.

Advocates of the suburban systems are now lobbying furiously in Nashville for another effort to lift the state's existing ban on new special or municipal school districts statewide. They claim to be making headway, and, somewhat ominously from the point of view of the letter mentioned above, some of them cite as fuel for their effort the current division in Memphis over the identity and function of the erstwhile Forrest Park and the Memphis City Council's name change for that and two other Confederate-related parks.

All we can say is we hope such is not the case. Whatever one's feelings about that local matter, the Civil War is over, and, like Nathan Bedford Forrest himself, should remain dead and buried. Refighting it at either the local or the state level benefits no one, not even our "Confederate legislators."

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Comments (2)

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I don't presume that county folk who question the efficacy of consolidation and its suitability for their own children are necessarily Klansmen or Confederates. Or maybe there were some other point to this piece that has eluded me after three readings?

I love the Flyer and prefer its progressive bent, but a good fourth of its content boils down to believe-this-because-we-told-you-so; to that, today, we add insult and generalization, overreaches that never go unremarked when conservatives make them.

If the Flyer wishes to extend its influence, it can take a more respectful posture and present more useful opinion.

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Posted by Don in Fort Worth on 02/16/2013 at 11:01 AM

I, too, remember the whole "Neshoba County" debacle, by which the suburbs and outlying areas sought to remove their mostly white selves from the increasingly African-American Shelby County. I found it rather amusing that they named their proposed county after the Cherokee word for "wolf," ostensibly the Wolf River. Evidently, one can find other racial minorities distasteful while embracing Native America. I don't think that would have sat well with other Tennesseeans of white "heritage," most famously Andrew Jackson.

As for the renaming controversy, I think it's important to note that it is indeed possible to commemorate a questionable time in history without actually celebrating it or holding it up for emulation. No matter how much we may second-guess the motives of those who erected monuments to the Confederacy well after the Civil War and possibly on into the civil rights era of the 1950s-60s, the fact remains that prominent citizens and civic organizations in Memphis thought it important enough to raise the funds to erect these public monuments and to christen these three parks in remembrance of Confederate leaders and their war dead.

Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife wished to be buried at Elmwood, and were later buried at the equestrian state at Forrest Park. Confederate Park contains several notable monuments; the park is an official commemoration of the Union (not Confederate!) victory of the Battle of Memphis. Jefferson Davis Park, across the road, is the only park of the three without any public monuments at all. A statue was erected of him, but in Confederate Park, instead of the park named for him.

Therefore, I would propose a compromise: that Forrest Park and Confederate Park be left as traditionally named, and that Jefferson Davis Park be renamed Ida B. Wells Park. This would allow all public monuments paid for by past citizens of Memphis to be continued to be respected and honored, while awarding official commemoration to a Mrs. Wells, an activist during the Reconstruction, an era not often remembered in present civil rights lore.

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Posted by Otterdaemmerung on 02/17/2013 at 10:56 AM
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