Hey Memphis, You’re Doing This Parks Thing Wrong

confedparkThe latest effort by Republicans in the Tennessee legislature to throw local government control under the bus comes in the form of the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013, slated for a vote in the state House later today. Rep. Steve McDaniel says the point of his bill, which bars changes to just about anything named for or commemorating military history is “to preserve our history.” The real aim, of course, is to prevent further moves like those in Memphis rebranding parks away from names that celebrate the Confederacy.

The sweep of McDaniel’s bill is breathtaking:

No statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, or plaque which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of, the French and Indian War, American Revolution, War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, the War Between the States, Spanish American War, the Mexican border period, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada), Operation El Dorado Canyon (Libya), Operation Just Cause (Panama), Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (Persian Gulf War I), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Persian Gulf War II), and is located on public property, may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed.

The other key paragraph says that “no statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, street, bridge, building, park, preserve, or reserve” that has been named for any historical military figure, event, or organization can be renamed.

Aiming to get ahead of this bill, the Memphis City Council in recent weeks has renamed multiple parks. Nathan Bedford Forrest Park is now Health Sciences Park (that’s catchy), Confederate Park is now Memphis Park, and Jefferson Davis Park has become Mississippi River Park. Interestingly, Memphis NAACP branch head Keith Norman opposes name changes for historically themed parks: “We believe that history should be kept as history.”

The Memphis City Council is missing a real opportunity here. There is a way they could rename parks to end glorification of racism and the Confederacy, retain the historical references that McDaniel and Norman want preserved, and send a “go to hell” message to state lawmakers gleefully dismantling local control, all at the same time. It’s simple: give the parks names that tell it like it is.

So, for instance: “Racist Nathan Bedford Forrest Park.” “Blow Me Jefferson Davis Park.” And how about “Ashamed to Have Been Part of the Confederacy Park.” Perhaps while they’re at it the good folks in Memphis can find a patch of grass to dedicate as “Ronald Reagan’s Illegal Grenada War Park.”

So get to work, Memphis City Council. And then go ahead, Rep. McDaniel, pass your bill. Let’s preserve us some real history.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


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