Memphis official wants to add Civil Rights leader's name to park named for Confederate leader
By Amos Maki Memphis Commercial Appeal
Posted January 17, 2013
City Council member Myron Lowery has drafted an ordinance to add Civil Rights leader Ida B. Wells' name to Forrest Park.
Currently, the park is named after Nathan Bedford Forest, a Confederate leader and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Medical District area park has drawn widespread attention since city Chief Administrative Officer George Little had a bold "Forrest Park" marker removed without notifying to the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Shelby County Historical Commission which spent $10,400 for the granite marker and concrete base.
Beverly Robertson, president of the Memphis-based National Civil Rights Museum, said Thursday that adding Wells' name to the park might not be "such a bad thing."
"I think the attempt is to reposition the park by renaming it for someone who fought for rights and justice and freedom for all, and that's not such a bad thing," said Robertson.
Lowery will introduce the ordinance, which requires three readings before becoming law, at the council's Feb. 5 meeting.
Lowery said he believed a majority of local African Americans would support his effort to include Wells' name on the park.
"I feel that a majority of African American leadership in this city will support this measure," said Lowery. "It's time to move past this controversy and honor all our heroes, not just a few. I think a majority of African Americans in this city see noting wrong with this solution."
Lowery's proposed ordinance said adding Wells' name to Forrest Park would shine as "a symbol of a city moving forward and embracing positive change within our great city."
Lowery's proposed ordinance is causing small, but visible, rifts in the usually tightly-knit 13-member council.
Councilman Jim Strickland is searching the Downtown area for city-owned land to create a park honoring Wells, a journalist and woman's suffragist who crusaded against lynchings in the 1880s and Jim Crow laws.
Strickland said Thursday that he wasn't opposed to Lowery's proposal, but that he had been looking for appropriate places to honor important Memphians, especially those who were leaders in the Civil rights area.
"My effort had nothing to do with Lowery's," said Strickland. "My effort had nothing to do with the whole controversy about Confederate parks. I just want to hear about (Lowery's) proposal. I'm open to the discussion."
Councilman Harold Collins said city leaders should be focused on the problems ailing Memphis now, such as high violent crime rates and crumbling neighborhoods.
"Why are we arguing over a park and a dead man?" asked Collins. "We ought to be focusing on why so many businesses are struggling and why the poverty right is so high."
"It's a waste of timer and energy," he said. "We're spending so much time and energy on things that aren't important. We can't change history but we can change and create the future we want, but we can't change the past."
"We need to be focusing on the essentials," said Collins. "Why are so many people killing each other. Why is there so much violence. These are the questions we should be asking, not focusing on the name of a park."