Tuesday, February 19, 2013

KKK Leader Announces Rally Over Renaming of Parks in Memphis

Today I read an article (which can be accessed here) about a local purported Ku Klux Klan member planning a mass protest of the renaming of Confederate-themed parks here in Memphis. The man, who refers to himself as the "Exalted Cyclops", intends to rally all of his fellow klansmen in a park formerly named for Nathan Bedford Forest, a renowned Confederate leader and creator of the Ku Klux Klan. The article was extremely thought provoking, particularly because it relates to many of our assigned readings and touches upon several key ideas that we have recently discussed in class.

What struck me first and foremost within this article was the fact that it continued to defy the frustrating “master narrative”, the narrative that too often suggests that not only was there a clear and defined beginning to racial prejudice, but an ending as well. Realistically, as clearly demonstrated in this text, racial discrimination is far from over. Though the overall public is generally oblivious to or at least ill informed about the current whereabouts of racist institutions like the KKK, it is imperative to understand that they still exist, and that racism is still rampant. Too often people talk about racist acts in the past tense, myself included. For instance, in class, when we discuss lynching, segregation, and racial violence, I have caught myself thinking something along the lines of, “That’s horrible! I can’t believe people did things like that back then!” while, in reality, acts of racism are still widely prevalent. (If anyone would like to view further proof of that, please check out this website.)

On a different note, one specific quote from the article stuck with me. One woman claimed that, by changing the names of these parks to ones that are not steeped in racial dispute and thus undeniably less controversial, the Memphis City Council is “trying to get rid of [and rewrite] history.” I found this postulation interesting. Is it possible that she has a point? And, if so, do you think that changing these names is a positive or a negative action? I completely understand the Memphis City Council’s decision to cease celebrating Confederate “heroes” by changing the names of the parks, and I get that this point in American history was extremely flawed (to put it very, very mildly). However, at the same time, I feel that it is important to illuminate the injustice rather than to sweep it under the rug. History cannot be erased or gotten rid of, but only improved upon over time, and, while things have definitely improved for African Americans and other minorities since the Civil War, it is scary to think that there are still active and passionate members of the KKK in existence. After all, as Winston Churchill best put it: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 


  1. The Forrest Park controversy has been an ongoing and interesting topic of debate in Memphis for many years. The idea that changing the name of the park is trying to re-write/get rid of history has long been the argument against changing the parks name.

    In my opinion, public spaces and monuments represent the historical periods a particular place finds to be most representative of its ideals. The renaming of the parks is a step towards Memphis progressing into a new era. Forrest Park and the statues themselves are not the memory of his life and history. They are representative of time decades later when groups such as the KKK were trying to connect Memphis to the Confederate memory.

    Interesting article - this issue has been at the front of Memphis politics lately, and I am curious to see how the city will continue to react to these issues.

  2. "What's in a name?" Juliet asked to Romeo. Juliet thinks that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention but it is not.

    A name is significant. This is the essence of identity and bears all the history and culture of one person or one thing in that case. A monument's or public space's name is very symbolic. It is supposed to represent the glory of one nation or city.

    The three Confederate-themed parks in Memphis are testimonies of the power of the Confederacy in the United States. I agree that they are part of the American history but they are not glorious at all anymore. In a city where 63% of the population is black, it must be painful for them to bring their children play in "Forrest Park" or "Davis Park".

    It is a bit strange that Memphis had to wait 2013 to get new parks' names. And for me, the State is undiplomatic for having keeping these names until now. History will never be erased. Racism though can be erased.
    What if a park was called "Aldof Hitler" in Germany? I do not think people will think that changing its name will lead to the rewriting of history...

  3. While I understand the symbolic importance of renaming these parks, I wonder to what extent the discussion of issues like this eclipses the realities of racial problems today. It seems like the eagerness to rename the parks becomes a way of taking a stance without truly doing so. In this debate over parks, as in other debates over street names/monuments/holidays, no one really seems to be talking about current racial dynamics; rather the focus is on past racism. I think this plays into the dominant discourse of the Civil Rights Movement as over or resolved, of racism as a relic not a reality. Renaming parks becomes an easy way out, a way to take appear politically correct without truly addressing still-existing racial disparities and tensions.

    That being said, they really should have come up with better names for the parks. If place names represent our values as a community, I'm not sure how exactly Health Sciences Park, Memphis Park, and Mississippi River Park fulfill that purpose. Again, it seems like a purposeful avoidance of controversy on the part of lawmakers; the new names are about as politically neutral as one can get.

  4. Hearing that a KKK rally is going to be held in Memphis is honestly terrifying to me. In a city that is 60-70% black, it seems as though this is an exceedingly dangerous place to host a KKK meeting. In my opinion, meetings of the KKK should be banned and illegal, with serious consequences, but holding it in a city where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and racial tensions are apparent seems nearly idiotic. I am in fear for the reaction many black people will have to this upcoming rally, as thousands of KKK members dress in their hoods, a symbol of so much injustice and segregation that blacks have had to undergo in the past. I fear that the reactions may turn to violence as they will inevitably show the clear racial tensions that still exist in Memphis, Tennessee.

    As for the renaming of the parks of Memphis, again, the city is 60-70% black. Oppressive leaders of the past should have no place in spots of respite and beauty. It is a wonder that this hasn't been changed until now. I think Anouk makes a great point about the hypothetical "Hitler" park in Germany; would the renaming of said park make the past any less relevant or disturbing? I think not. Furthermore, the renaming of the parks is an opportunity for optimism and positive symbolism, as it is a way to confirm the injustices blacks and their ancestors have felt in the past. I think that the politically neutral names of the parks can also be seen in a positive light. Because the parks are not being renamed after famous black heros and leaders, it gives the KKK and other opposers of this renaming process less ammunition to retaliate or accuse of affirmative action. The neutral names offer a sort of compromise and shows that there is hope for positive growth in the state of race relations in Memphis.

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  6. I recently saw a local news station covering this story. I found it absolutely appalling to think that the KKK still gathers in the first place, but also that they were going to rally in Memphis, an obviously diverse city where the majority is African American citizens. While my initial reaction was thinking O my goodness I need to go downtown when this happens and scream horrible things at these people, I was instantly shut up by what happened on the news program next. Instead of asking Memphis citizens to come protest the KKK’s rally, numerous African American leaders in the Memphis area talked about how the rally should be ignored and that people should not act violently against the KKK.
    This reminded me of what we have been learning in class about the numerous non-violent actions people like Martin Luther King, Lawson, and others promoted throughout the heat of the movement. After watching the news clip it is obvious that the same non-violent philosophy still exists today, which is compelling to me because I know I would have struggled in the 60’s as well as today to not act violently in response to people harassing others simply because of race. However, I am glad that I saw the news clip because I do think it will be more powerful to not give any attention to the KKK rally and act in a non-violent manner when it does happen for all of society and I hope it does not cause a violent uproar in Memphis.

  7. When I was a senior in high school I visited a college in Pulaski, TN. Although I really had no desire to attend the school, I was being recruited by the softball coach there so I went anyway. For those who many not realize, Pulaski is the birth place of the KKK and there is a strong community of KKK members there. While that's all I knew about Pulaski before arriving, it wouldn't have taken me long to figure it out. It was like I had driven back in time 50 or so years. The houses were old country houses and they had a front porch with a confederate flag flying. There were old white men in overalls sitting on every porch. It was just really surreal and I could help but get an icky feeling driving through the town. It is appalling and disgusting to me that the KKK still exists as it does today, and the fact that they are planning to rally here in Memphis makes me angry and I have no reason to hate these people. It amazes me how African Americans were able to act non-violently towards these people when they were violent towards them back in the day. There are no plans of violence for this rally, but their presence here would still makes me want to shove them back in their cars and send them home.