Memphis city council voted to re-label park named for Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, Confederate general and former Klansman
Members of a branch of the Ku Klux Klan planning a protest in Memphis, Tennessee, this month, after the city's council voted to strip the name of a former Klan member from a public park.
The Loyal White Knights of the KKK called for the demonstration after the city council voted to rename the Nathan Bedford Forrest park in Memphis. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate army and an early KKK member.
At a 1998 rally by Klansmen in Memphis, police fired teargas at angry anti-KKK protesters. But the event on 30 March could yet be thwarted, after the city council voted on Tuesday to ban protesters from wearing masks and costumes during demonstrations.
The "rally events" section of the Loyal White Knights website summoned members to a "public march for Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue".
"They are renaming the park and also removing his remains," the statement said, in block capitals. "We are asking all good klans to join us in the fight. Join Loyal White Knights and the Northern Mississippi White Knights and International Keystone Knights for this event."
Chris Barker, who said he was the "imperial wizard" of the Loyal White Knights, which is based in North Carolina, told the Guardian that the protest would take place on the steps of Memphis's federal courthouse building from 1.30pm to 4pm. Barker said the name changing in the park was an example of "trying to erase white history from the history books".
He said that Klansmen would afterwards travel to Mississippi for a "cross-lighting ceremony", although he would not reveal the location and said it was "members only". Barker said that about seven or eight different groups of the KKK would be in Memphis. The permit allows for 180 people, Barker said, but could not give a firm estimate on how many people would be there. "It'll be hard to say until we actually start meeting."
Barker said "most of" the klansmen will be in robes but others will be wearing security uniform. "Whatever the police can't handle, we'll handle," he said.
The imperial wizard of the International Keystone Knights, who asked not to be named, would not confirm whether his organisation would attend. He said Forrest "was responsible for bringing the first railroad into Memphis, [and] was also a tremendous asset to Memphis by being a part of the city council in the days after the civil war".
Some reports have suggested up to 2,000 members could protest in Memphis, but Barker said there would not be that many. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the activity of hate groups in the US, said "it would be a surprise if the event drew 40 Klansmen, and it will likely be considerably fewer than that," in a post on its Hatewatch blog.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate army in the civil war, remembered as a renowned horseman but also accused of overseeing the massacre of black troops at Fort Pillow. He was a slave trader before the war and an early member of the KKK, although his rank in the organisation is the subject of debate.
Memphis city council decided it would rename the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in February, giving it the temporary name of "Health Sciences Park" until a permanent one is chosen. It also changed the names of Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park in a move which the Memphis Daily News said was hastened by a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would have forbidden the renaming of military or war memorial parks.
The Memphis president of the NAACP has urged residents not to "give the Klan an audience" and encouraged "the citizens of Memphis" – the 2006-08 American Community Survey said the city had a population that was 62.6% black – "to take a peaceful approach as to how we respond to such actions".
But the KKK may still be thwarted, after the council voted on Tuesday to change the city's ordinance on parades and public assemblies. Council members voted 13-0 to ban the wearing of masks "for the purpose of civil rights intimidation" and the same proposal would require groups from outside Memphis to cover the cost of providing additional police security at public assemblies.
The vote was prompted by the looming KKK rally, although it remains to be seen if Memphis's mayor AC Wharton will sign the proposal before the rally.
A member of his office told the Guardian the mayor was away on Wednesday, and she could not immediately confirm whether he will give the changes the go-ahead.
[Photo via Flickr creative commons]