Removing Forrest marker opens up Pandora's box - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Removing Forrest marker opens up Pandora's box

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

If his life was one of slavery, war and swashbuckling militarism, then can he share the same patch of ground as a woman who exposed the inhumanity of lynchings, fought against inequality and helped formed one of the most influential Civil Rights organizations in history?

A recent decision by the city of Memphis to remove a park monument honoring controversial Civil War figure Nathan Bedford Forrest may have opened up another Pandora's box.

It's prompted a proposal from City Councilman Myron Lowery to co-name the park, by adding the name of Civil Rights leader Ida B Wells-Barnett.

MORE: National Civil Rights Museum

It's an uncomfortable conundrum that could loom for council members in a few weeks if Councilman Lowery's proposal to erect a monument to Wells, an African-American journalist, in Nathan Bedford Forrest Park actually is introduced.

"There is no better person to put there because she was a fighter for justice and freedom," said Beverly Robertson, National Civil Rights Museum Executive Director. "She was iconic in the day when people got killed for doing the things she did."

Much as been written, including by yours truly, about the controversial exploits of Forrest as a Civil War figure and later founder and then repudiator of the Klu Klux Klan. But, in Memphis, only a marker on Beale Street gives visitors a thumbnail sketch of the tumultuous life and times of Wells-Barnett during her life in Memphis.

With both parents dead, at age 16 and living in Mississippi, Wells-Barnett was thrust into the role of provider for the rest of her family. Her first foray into a journalistic career was spawned by two incidents: in 1884, her refusal to ride in the black peoples' car on a Tennessee train led to her being tossed off it.

She sued successfully, but it was later overturned.

But, it was her witnessing of the lynching of three Memphis businessmen in 1892, while she was the co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech Newspaper that would launch her journalistic career, assume the role of activist and would lead her to become the co-founder of the NAACP.

Ms. Wells-Barnett is among 20 African-American women honored in the Freedom Sisters exhibit to be unveiled at the National Civil Rights Museum in February.

"She was a courageous woman as you said, a journalist," added Barbara Andrews, NCRM director of education. "She was a business woman. She was the caretaker for young siblings at a very young age. Just a tireless and fearless woman in the fight for human rights as well as Civil Rights."

So Memphis city council members, get ready to draw the battle lines of what appears to be a never-ending fight over what's historically proper.

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