The Memphis City Council's parks committee voted to revisit councilman Myron Lowery's proposal to rename Forrest Park in honor of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells in two weeks, following a heated exchange between councilwoman Janis Fullilove and councilman Bill Boyd.
Boyd, chairman of the parks committee, began the meeting by extolling the "virtues" of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the namesake of the controversial city park, after first giving a disclaimer about his interest in the Civil War.
"I'm not a Civil War buff. As far as I'm concerned, the South lost. It's like when the [University of Memphis] Tigers lose, I don't read the paper," Boyd said.
Boyd talked about Forrest's history as a businessman and proclaimed that, with Forrest's long history of winning war battles, "he must have been a great general." Then Boyd went on to tell the council that Forrest "promoted progress for black people in this country after the war." He claimed that Forrest did not found the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) but rather was elected its leader later on. Boyd also claimed that the KKK was "more of a social club" in its early days and didn't start doing "bad and horrific things" until it reorganized around the time of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement.
Boyd's statements were peppered with audible scoffs and an exclamation of "Lord, have mercy" from Fullilove. At one point, Boyd looked at the councilwoman and said, "Keep making faces like you do, Ms. Fullilove," to which she responded, "Oh, I will."
After Boyd's history lesson on Forrest, he allowed Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to speak about the city's removal of a granite "Forrest Park" sign that his club raised more than $10,000 to have made and installed at the park's Union Avenue entrance. When Miller mentioned that the city had removed the marker, Fullilove clapped loudly. Miller then asked Fullilove to "hold it down."
Miller had copies of emails from former city parks director Cindy Buchanan that he believed showed proof that the city had approved the marker. But Maura Black Sullivan, deputy CAO for the city, told council members, "I know those emails look like it was approved, but it was not approved by the administration."
Sullivan told Miller he would have to gain approval from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) under their sign ordinance, but Miller contended that the DMC only approves business signs, not signs for city parks. That issue will also be revisited in two weeks.
Boyd then adjourned the meeting, but Fullilove had apparently been trying to let Boyd know that she wanted to speak.
"Oh, you just ignored me!" Fullilove exclaimed.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Boyd said, opening the floor to Fullilove.
"I appreciate how you shared your personal opinion on how great Forrest was to black people," Fullilove said as she addressed Boyd. "But those are lies."
Boyd asked Fullilove to share her opinion with him in writing. "Oh, I will," Fullilove said.