- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis’ mayor rejected calls to rename three parks that honor the Confederacy, saying yesterday that the city should focus on being part of the New South and stop worrying about the remnants of the Old South.

Mayor Willie Herenton, who like 60 percent of the residents of Memphis is black, said public fighting over the park names only would hurt the city’s image, which still is tarnished by the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

“We do not need another event that portrays Memphis nationally as a city still racially polarized and fighting the Civil War all over again,” he said. “We have a national image that must be protected.”

But a growing squabble over the park names and the statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Southern Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest could continue.

Mr. Herenton said he will ask the City Council to give the parks to the University of Tennessee and the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. The park bearing Forrest’s name is beside the campus of the university’s medical school.

If the university or the development corporation wants to rename the parks, “that’s their decision,” Mr. Herenton said.

“But the mayor represents a city,” he said. “I may not give you my views on whether they should be renamed or not, but the city of Memphis should not rename these parks.”

Mr. Herenton said he is “not interested in burying history.”

“The statues remind us of the Old South. … I’m interested in moving Memphis forward as a leader in the New South,” he said.

Critics argue that Confederate, Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest parks honor those who supported slavery and fought to destroy the Union. After the Civil War, Forrest was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Others, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of Forrest’s descendants, argue that the parks represent a part of the city’s history and should be left alone.

As an example of trouble the squabble could cause, Mr. Herenton held up a letter “from some guy in the Ku Klux Klan” that threatened a funeral for Forrest “in full KKK regalia” if his statue is moved.

Forrest’s remains and those of his wife were relocated from a cemetery and placed beneath the statue when the park was named for him 100 years ago.

Proponents of changing the parks’ names and moving the statues also have promised protests and have invited such activists as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to join them.

The Center City Commission, a group that promotes downtown development, asked the City Council last month to rename the parks. But the council sidestepped a contentious vote on the parks when its attorney said only Mr. Herenton had the authority to change the names.

Giving up the park sites would require the council’s approval, though.

University spokeswoman Elizabeth Maynard-Garrett said the medical school wants to use Forrest Park as open space for students and faculty. There have been no discussions about renaming the park or moving Forrest’s statue, she said.

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