After the column below was published in The Commercial Appeal in 2014, a reader threatened to rape me. Several weeks later, the editor and managing editor took away the job I’d had for 11 years, as the metro columnist. I was the first black woman to write opinion full-time for the paper, but I’d been moved to the job of criminal justice editor.
I believe that the paper’s top editor and publisher thought I brought the threat on myself, for writing what both called “divisive” columns about race.
I am a rape survivor and being threatened with rape terrified me.
It feels appropriate today, less than 24 hours after the metal tribute to the slaver Forrest fell, to republish the column that I believe led to the end of my award-winning career at The Commercial Appeal.
Wendi C. Thomas: Memphis to sell Forrest Park marker if Confederate group won’t reclaim it
By Wendi C. Thomas
Friday, March 7, 2014
Don’t be surprised if you see an ad like this soon: For sale: One “Forrest Park” 1,000-pound, 10-foot granite marker.
Perfect for Civil War buffs or fans of the Klan’s first grand wizard. The original owner, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, paid $9,000. Interested? Call the City of Memphis.
The stone tribute to Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest has languished in a Midtown storage shed since January 2013, when Memphis officials plucked it from the park that once bore Forrest’s name.
Unless the SCV, which placed the stone without final approval, claims it soon, it’s headed to a city auction block.
“Either you come get your stuff or we’ll consider it surplus,” said George Little, the city’s chief administrative officer.
It’s the latest chapter in the continuing Southern drama, pitting those who still revere the era in which African-Americans were property and those stunned and disgusted that this debate continues.
Recent developments include the marker’s removal in January 2013; the Memphis City Council’s decision to rename three Confederate-themed city parks last February, which freed these green spaces from names that reflected fondly on an era when 63 percent of Memphians would have been enslaved; a March 2013 rally Downtown by the KKK to protest said name changes, for which the city and county spent $175,585on public safety; and a new state law, rushed through by Republicans (the party of less government intervention and more local control) last April, that strips cities of the authority to rename any war-themed parks.
The next showdown will come by June when the city plans to vacate the storage building next to Overton Park where the marker sits.
“We are in the process of discussions to locate the Eggleston photo museum on that parcel of land, as part of a longer term arrangement with the Overton Park Conservancy.” Little said. The goal is “to get as much of that park back to the natural state as possible.”
“We don’t want anything to happen to it,” he said, but “we’re not taking it with us … If someone wants it as a yard marker, they’ll be welcome to it.”
More than once, the city has asked the SCV to take the marker, but spokesman Lee Millar wants city officials to put it back where they found it.
“We did NOT refuse it’s (sic) return,” Millar said by email. “We stated where it should be returned to: namely, its rightful place in Forrest Park.”
There’s only one problem with Millar’s demand, and it’s a big one: “There isn’t a Forrest Park to put it back in,” Little said.
The park at Union and Manassas near Downtown still features an equestrian statue of the slave trader and Forrest’s remains. But it’s called Health Sciences Park, in a nod to its location next to the medical school and the city’s aspirations to be known as a biomedical center.
Little understands the SCV’s motivations. “If they took the marker back, it might affect their case.”
That’s right: This is still the land of the free and the home of the litigious: The SCV has sued the city for the “theft” of the marker and parks’ renaming.
Perhaps a detente could come through the award-winning movie based on an 1853 slave memoir.
“If anyone wonders why they might find that marker offensive, go see ’12 Years a Slave’ and then come talk about it,” Little said.