March 20, 2013, 11:40 a.m. ET
By CAMERON MCWHIRTER
Officials in Memphis, Tenn., are girding for a rally called by a faction of the Ku Klux Klan at the end of the month, to protest the City Council's decision earlier this year to change the name of three Confederate-themed city parks.
The council voted Feb. 5 to change the names of Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park, named for the Confederacy's president, and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, named for a Confederate lieutenant general who was also the KKK's first grand wizard. The new names are Memphis Park, Mississippi River Park and Health Sciences Park, respectively, though the council may change those names later.
The council's move came in response to a bill moving through the Tennessee Legislature this year that would forbid local governments from changing names of any parks or monuments named for wars or war heroes, including those involving the Civil War.
Park Sheds Confederate Name, Drawing Ire
Since the vote, council members have been bombarded with email messages opposing the decision from people outside Memphis, said Lee Harris, a councilman who pushed to change the park names. But the council won't go back to the old names, he said: "We've got to move Memphis forward."
The group organizing the rally wants the city to reverse the vote.
"Every time we turn around they are trying to take the white people out of the history books," Chris Barker, the imperial wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said in an interview.
The Eden, N.C.-based group's website contains a flier with an image of Gen. Forrest and states that all group members must attend the rally. According to the website, the group supports "white separatism" and opposes homosexuality and "race-mixing." The group states it is nonviolent and Christian, but Mr. Barker said that if any counter-protesters "want to attack, we will attack back just as fast as they do."
Visitors take pictures of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest on his horse at a park formerly named after the confederate cavalryman.
The size of Mr. Barker's group is unclear, but he said he has invited KKK groups across the Southeast to attend. "We don't know the number until we actually get there," he said.
The last KKK rally in downtown Memphis, held in 1998, led to a counter-rally in which about 20 people were arrested and police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 500.
Officials in Memphis, one of the largest black-majority cities in the country, are anxious to avoid any trouble this time and are urging counter-protesters to stay home. Police are forbidding hoods, masks and weapons at the rally and plan to close off streets in the area.
Mr. Harris, the councilman in Memphis, said he and his supporters plan to ignore the rally. The KKK is "already a marginalized organization and we want to keep it that way," he said.
The Memphis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is planning no response, said Executive Director Madeleine Taylor.
"The more that we talk about it, the more that their message gets out, and we are through with them," she said.
Write to Cameron McWhirter at firstname.lastname@example.org
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