In politics it's a fact "you can't lead from behind," a recognition that apparently came to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton who wanted to negotiate a settlement of the parks issue.
But in a packed committee room, with boisterous supporters and anxious council members, Mayor Wharton silently beat a hasty retreat back to his office.
He wasn't missed.
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As an overflow crowd settled into every available nook and cranny of the Memphis City Council Committee room it was evident "political theatre" was about to take center stage, and there were no lack of participants wanting to vie for lead roles in the latest revival of the melodrama "renaming Confederate parks."
Our play begins with Councilman Myron Lowery's introduction of an ordinance to add the name of Civil Rights pioneer Ida B. Wells to the title of the park dedicated to controversial Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
"I feel that by doing this it would balance the life of a Confederate general that many feel has been quite controversial with that of an African-American leader whose done just the opposite," Councilman Lowery said.
Yet, the whole proceeding took on a sense of urgency when the council's parks committee was informed Tennessee State Rep. Steve McDaniel and State Sen. Bill Ketron have, not so coincidently, co-sponsored legislation aimed at forbidding any park renaming or statue relocation in Memphis or the rest of the state if it's named after or dedicated to a war.
Councilman Lowery's ordinance, which would take weeks to pass, suddenly took a backseat to quicker moving alternative solutions. A process that hatched ideas from the sublime, Councilman Jim Strickland's proposal to form a committee to study all the issues, to this eyebrow raising "pretzel logic" suggestion from Councilwoman Janis Fullilove.
"I would like to move to rename the park Nat Turner Park because Forrest hated black people and Turner hated whites," Councilwoman Fullilove said.
Councilman Lee Harris tried to ride to the rescue with his proposed ordinance to rename the three Confederate parks by designating two of them for the streets they're on - Union Avenue, Front Street and changing Forrest Park to Ida B. Wells Park. He tried to bolster his position by introducing two college historians whose historical perspectives didn't go unchallenged.
"It's fair and reasonable to state with a few rare exceptions, professional historians in general find the celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, Nathan Bedford Forrest in this park to be distasteful," said Dr. Aram Goudsouzian, University of Memphis.
"There are those like Commercial Appeal reporter Wendi C. Thomas who write calumny (false and malicious) accusations about the general, With the intent of exciting from the public a level of hate that is a danger to public safety," said H K Edgerton, Southern Heritage President.
Councilman Strickland's committee, that could take on the appearance of a cast of thousands, was passed on to the full council for an immediate vote along with a suggestion from council attorney Alan Wade to pass a resolution giving the parks generic names in hopes of beating Nashville to the punch by getting something on the legislative books.
Melodrama has taken on the frenetic pace of game show.
Councilman Strickland's proposal calls for a committee made up of council members, historians, NAACP and the Sons of The Confederacy.
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