A General Invitation, Come Home
September 28th, 2017
Bury the mythology, not the truth.
In 1852, local speculators bought some rolling land about three miles out of town and started a cemetery. They were part of the rural cemetery movement in America, creating spacious, park-like, landscaped environments away from the cramped churchyards and the hustle and bustle of cities. Families could come here not only to pay respect to loved ones but to enjoy the outing, to picnic, to listen to concerts – to recognize death in celebration of life. They named it Elmwood.
Early on, Nathan Bedford Forrest rode out to Elmwood and bought lots for his entire family.
It’s time to return. Past time.
As published in The Memphis Daily News, September 29, 2017, and in The Memphis News, September 30-October 6, 2017, edited from columns first published in 2013 and 2015.
COME ON BACK TO ELMWOOD, GENERAL FORREST.
I first issued that invitation in 2013, and again in 2015. As it has been for some time – it’s past time.
Come back, General, and bring the missus. Elmwood is where you said you wanted to be. Others put you in a public park and made you a symbol of what you are not. You are not a victor in a virtuous cause. You are not superior by virtue of your color. You are not entitled to a glorified history others would give you, only to the whole truth of your own.
After all, you bought the Elmwood lot yourself in 1854 and you were buried there in 1877, before strangers took you and your wife away in 1905.
Your brothers Jeffrey, William and Jesse are there, and your son, William. You rode with them in life and war, and you should rest with them in the Forrest family lot. Not in honor of any cause lost or otherwise. Not in praise of military genius or wizardry in the saddle. Not in the disgrace of trading black people as property or murdering them as they surrendered at Fort Pillow. Not in the infamy of founding the Ku Klux Klan or in the endless spin to justify and glorify your fascinating, darkly polarizing life.
Not because of any of that but in recognition of your real place in history, where respect is given for what must come to all and judgment is left to history itself and to the passage of time and not the passion of moments or movements.
Those who would deny the whole truth of your life, who would cause so much pain to propagate romantic mythology, should hear what I’m sure your neighbor next door at Elmwood, Shelby Foote, would say:
The Civil War is history. Rest in peace.
Come home, General. But don’t bring the statue. It wasn’t there in the first place, and there’s no place for it there now and the misplaced attention it brings.
You’ll be among 21 generals from both North and South. You’ll join veterans of every American war, next to our most famous and infamous, saints and scallywags, black and white, madams and mayors, our brightest stars and darkest memories.
You’ll be part of the soul of Memphis history, 75,000 souls strong and counting.
As to that park, let’s name it Healing Arts Park – less clinical than Health Sciences Park – and rededicate it to our rich history in that regard. We could recognize Dr. Willis C. Campbell who, quite literally, wrote the book on modern orthopedics, or honor Dr. Lemuel W. Diggs, a pioneer in sickle cell anemia, creator of the South’s first blood bank and facilitator in the St. Jude founding, or acknowledge thousands of fragile new lives saved by the dedication of Dr. Sheldon B. Korones.
The story of so many more, and more yet to come, can be told in this park, an inspiring story of progress.
I’m a Memphian, and healing is better for us.