Opinion » Editorial

No New Civil War, Please

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



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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