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VOL. 8 | NO. 35 | Saturday, August 22, 2015

Appeals Court Keeps Alive Confederate Parks Renaming Challenge

By Bill Dries

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals has revived a legal challenge to the city’s renaming of three Confederate-themed parks with a Friday, Aug. 21, ruling that keeps only one of the 15 plaintiffs intact.

The case involves a lawsuit filed in 2013 following the Memphis City Council's decision to rename Forrest Park, Jefferson Davis Park and Confederate Park. Shelby County Chancellor Kenny W. Armstrong dismissed the suit, ruling that the plaintiffs had not established that they had a standing in the case.  

Nathan Bedford Forrest's statue and burial site are in Health Sciences Park, formerly named for the Confederate general. A state appeals court has kept alive the lawsuit over the renaming of that park and two others.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But in its Friday ruling, the appeals court said the Sons of Confederate Veterans Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp #215 does have standing and remanded the case back to Shelby County Chancery Court.

The opinion, written by Appeals Court Judge Brandon O. Gibson, upheld Armstrong’s dismissal of the 14 other plaintiffs, including descendants of Forrest, Sons of Confederate Veterans International and the group Citizens to Save Our Parks Inc.

The distinction, according to the ruling, is that the Forrest camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans “suffered a distinct and palpable injury not common to the citizenry at large” when the council voted to change the name of the park honoring the Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. It's new name is Health Sciences Park.

Gibson's opinion specifically points to the chapter’s funding and installation of a 10-foot-long, 3,000-pound concrete marker at the edge of the park bearing the name “Forrest Park.”

The city’s removal of the marker was a pivotal moment that triggered a series of events, including a state law that bars renaming or removing monuments from parks that memorialize veterans and the wars they've served in.

Gibson also cited the SCV camp’s work in maintaining the park.

In a footnote, Gibson clarifies that the organization has standing to challenge the council’s action in renaming all three parks. But it notes the Chancery Court's options include declaring the resolution invalid only in the case of the former Forrest Park, declaring the renaming of all three parks invalid, or upholding the renamings.

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