It is by now obvious that issues concerning three downtown city parks with Confederate associations will rage for a while. Maybe Al Sharpton, a former presidential candidate and nationally known black leader who has promised a weekend visit here, will stage a dignified and relatively modest protest of the long-existing status of the parks. But it's more likely that he intends to raise the decibel level of the argument by fostering a march or some other dramatic gesture.
Under those circumstances, the stance taken last week by Mayor Willie Herenton, though ambivalent and even evasive in the extreme, should be welcomed for its moderate tone. Herenton was widely accused - with some justice - of trying to have it both ways. He distanced the city from the renaming controversy and took a stand in favor of maintaining historical artifacts, the seamy along with the seemly. But he also in effect passed the buck - ironically, after declaring earlier in his press conference that "the buck stops here." What the mayor proposed - deeding two of the properties, Jefferson Davis Park and Confederate Park, to the Riverfront Development Corporation, and the third and most controversial, Forrest Park, to the University of Tennessee - was, to say the least, disingenuous.
Under persistent questioning from the media, the mayor conceded that these proposed "beneficiaries" would have it in their power to enact such changes as they wished - or that they might be pressured into. In the case of the RDC, that quasi-governmental agency's board presumably needs little persuasion to convert the two riverfront parks into part and parcel of its already existing plans for redevelopment (one that is controversial in its own right). And an expansion-minded UT would find it hard to resist availing itself of the choice real estate represented by adjacent Forrest Park.
Still, Herenton's press conference did much to defuse potential tension, and the mayor went on record against "hell-raisers" of whatever stripe. If this is good politics, so be it. And we hear that dissembling is one of the tools that artful politicians actually use from time to time.
Meanwhile, city councilman Myron Lowery has done much to point toward a fair-minded resolution of the parks issue, both by initiating an ongoing series of dialogues about the matter and by floating a specific proposal: to grace Forrest Park and the others with balancing memorials to prominent African Americans and participants in the civil rights struggle. Lowery even suggested the kind of name change for one of the venues - "Civil War Park" - that would clarify historical meaning, not eradicate it.
Faithful readers of our editorial page will note that the councilman's efforts are in the direction that we have advanced in our own thinking. But Lowery has both a bully pulpit and a fulcrum of sorts to actually enact change. We commend him for taking these first, well-considered steps toward a solution.
It may be, as the mayor mentioned at his press conference and as we and others have also pointed out, that the parks issue is a diversion from the real matters - budgetary, educational, developmental, environmental - that confront our sometimes divided community. All the more reason to get this problem solved in a spirit of compromise and fairness.
Both the mayor, in his equivocal way, and the councilman, in his more forthright manner, have contributed to such a resolution.