MEMPHIS — The city of Memphis is challenging a lawsuit that alleges officials acted illegally when they renamed three Confederate-themed parks.
Lawyers for the Memphis City Council filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court on June 24.
In the motion, obtained late Thursday by The Associated Press, the city claims that 10 county residents and a citizens’ group have no standing to sue the council and challenge the renaming of the parks.
The lawsuit filed May 29 seeks to nullify a resolution passed by the council in February that changed the names of Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park. Forrest Park is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalryman who also was a member of the early Ku Klux Klan.
Supporters of the changes claimed the Confederate names honored racists and the South’s battle to preserve slavery. Opponents argued that city officials were unfairly trying to rewrite and suppress the Memphis history.
The council acted after the city removed a large concrete marker from Forrest Park. The marker was placed there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, near the statue of Forrest sitting on his horse. City officials said the marker, emblazoned with the words “Forrest Park,” was placed there without permission.
Council members said the name changes were designed to head off pending state legislation aimed at preventing the renaming of any parks honoring wars or historical military figures. The “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013” became a law a few weeks after the council’s vote.
The council temporarily changed the names of Confederate Park to Memphis Park; Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park; and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park.
A committee formed to consider permanent names has since recommended Civil War Park, Promenade Park and Harbor Park. The council has not acted on the recommendation. It may be waiting until the lawsuit filed by the 10 residents and a group called Citizens to Save Our Parks Inc. is resolved.
The lawsuit claims that only the mayor, not the City Council, has the legal authority to change the names. It cites a statement made in August 2005, when the council’s lawyer said that the mayor “not the city council has the authority to name or rename parks.”
The suit also alleges that taxpayers will be affected because the removal of the names will hurt historical tourism. And, it claims the city illegally removed the “Forrest Park” marker.
“Memphis’ history, including the Civil War, yellow fever plagues, and the civil rights movement are all powerful statements on humanity’s ability to endure hardships and violence, while remaining hopeful,” the lawsuit said.
The city’s response says the plaintiffs have no standing because they failed to show how they have been injured by the council’s action.