The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 7, 2013

Confederate past: Uproar over changing park names


"It's very offensive," he said. "How can we have unity in the nation when we have one city, right here in Memphis, which fails to be unified?"

Most of the emotion over the council's action has centered on Forrest. His defenders, mostly white, cite Forrest's accomplishments as an alderman, businessman and military leader. Critics, black and white, say honoring Forrest glorifies a slave trader and Ku Klux Klan member.

Katherine Blaylock, a Memphis resident who opposes the name changes, defended Forrest and accused the council of trying to rewrite history.

"Memphis has always been a racially divided city," Blaylock, 43, said after Tuesday's meeting. "It's been a big clash since way back when. We do what we can to come together and be a community, but the antagonists that keep bringing it out on both sides are the bad apples."

Forrest lived in Memphis before the Civil War, working as a cotton farmer and slave trader. Though lacking traditional military training, he rose to lieutenant general in the Confederate Army. He became legendary for fast horseback raids that disrupted the enemy's supply lines and communications.

Forrest also led the siege against Union-held Fort Pillow in 1864. With the clear advantage, Forrest ordered Union Maj. William Bradford and his troops to surrender. Forrest's men then stormed the fort and killed about 300 soldiers, half of them black. They also took black and white prisoners.

Questions linger whether the Union soldiers at Fort Pillow were killed as they tried to surrender. Northern newspaper reports referred to the battle as an atrocity, but some historians say the deaths were a consequence of battle.

Forrest later became a member of the Klan, which intimidated and threatened Southern blacks. His level of involvement in the Klan is a source of argument, and he is believed to have helped disband the first incarnation of the Klan in 1869.

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