I enjoy Commercial Appeal writer Wendi C. Thomas' columns. I mostly agree with her, and even when I don't, I appreciate her sass, intelligence, and wit. That said, her January 13th column, titled "Marker for Klan founder Forrest moved by KKK's worst nightmare: A powerful black man," was, as Thomas might say, something of a hot mess.
The column was about the removal of a sign put up by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Forrest Park, which was detailed in last week's Flyer cover story by Jackson Baker. The basic facts are these: Lee Millar, writing as chairman of the Shelby County Historical Commission, offered to put up a new sign for the park. Cindy Buchanan, then the city's park director, responded in a letter to Millar: "The proposal to create a low, monument-style sign of Tennessee granite with the park name carved in the front was reviewed by park design staff and found to be appropriate in concept ... similar to the monument-style signage placed by the city at Overton Park."
George Little, the city CAO, and Mike Flowers, the administrator of park planning and development, were copied on Buchanan's letter.
Millar, who is also an officer of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, got the SCV to come up with the funds for the sign, and it was put up last spring. In October, county commissioner Walter Bailey sent Little a three-part file on the sign and asked that it be taken down.
In December, Baker asked Buchanan about the sign. She said she recalled being asked about the sign but that she "honestly [didn't] remember what I said to them about that." Uh huh. Little told Baker he could find no records of anyone having signed off on the new sign. Millar had no such problem finding the letter from Buchanan that was copied to Little, and he sent a copy to Baker.
In the week between Christmas and New Year's, Little had the sign removed. There is no doubt in my mind that Millar pulled a fast one in using his chairmanship of the Shelby County Historical Society as cover to get a sign erected by the SCV. But he did get city approval.
Thomas portrayed the whole affair as racial, with Little playing the role of a "strong black man" frustrating the Ku Klux Klan. But it seems to me that the removal of the sign was more likely a case of butt-covering by city officials. Demagoguing the affair as "black versus white" does no one any good.