On Tuesday the Memphis City Council passed a resolution to rename three Confederate-themed public parks in Memphis, including one named after the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Confederate Park is now known as Memphis Park, Jefferson Davis Park is henceforth Mississippi River Park and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park -- named after the Confederate Army lieutenant general and KKK leader -- is now Health Sciences Park.
The City Council measure was a preemptive action against what Councilman Shea Flinn called, "the ironic war of aggression from our northern neighbor in Nashville." The day before, the state legislature introduced the "Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013," which, if approved, will prevent renaming and alteration of Tennessee statues, monuments, or memorials erected in honor of the Civil War (or, in the bill's language, "the War Between the States").
"These three parks have a racial history that should be erased," Memphis civil rights activist Kennith Van Buren told the Associated Press. "The parks are an embarrassment to our city."
Not everyone is embarrassed, however. The name changes have drawn criticism from citizens in favor of commemorating the Confederate States of America. "We should cherish the history that we have, we shouldn't cover it up and try to bury it or hide it," Memphian Becky Muska said at Tuesday's council meeting.
The sentiment is hardly unique to Tennessee. Currently there are twenty-five major monuments to Davis alone in the United States, and the Confederate leader's birthday, June 3, remains a holiday in Florida -- many public offices, schools and businesses are closed -- and is officially celebrated in Kentucky and Louisiana, as well as Tennessee.
Enter the Ku Klux Klan, founded by Civil War veterans in 1865. According to its website, the organization's current mission is to "stop White genocide."
A KKK Exalted Cyclops promised a massive protest rally over the Memphis City Council decision. (The Exalted Cyclops reports to a Grand Giant, or provincial leader. Next in the chain of command is Grand Dragon, a director on the state level. The Grand Wizard runs the national organization).
Going by "Edward" -- anonymity is typical of the Klan -- the Exalted Cyclops told Memhis' WMC-TV, "Y'all are going to see the largest rally Memphis, Tennessee, has ever seen. It's not going to be twenty or thirty -- it's going to be thousands of Klansmen from the whole United States."
There are over 100 Klan chapters in the United States, with an estimated membership of 5,000. Should they gather lawfully, the city of Memphis will take no action, per the First Amendment.
Anti-Klan protesters are another story. In 1998, when fifty Klansmen assembled to protest the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, police had to fire tear gas to keep the crowd of 200-300 protestors of the protestors at bay.
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