Members of the Ku Klux Klan protest a decision to rename three parks named for the Confederacy and two of its leaders.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan protest a decision to rename three parks named for the Confederacy and two of its leaders.

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Klansmen protest a decision to rename Memphis, Tennessee, parks

One man says he wanted his kids to see "what ignorance looks like"

Community leaders urged residents to attend a "Heart of Memphis" celebration instead

(CNN) —  

A weekend rally by white supremacists in Memphis, Tennessee, saw far more cops than Klansmen on the streets.

An estimated five dozen Ku Klux Klan members turned out in downtown Memphis to protest the City Council’s decision to rename three parks now named for the Confederacy and two of its leaders, CNN affilliate WMC reported. Some of them wore the group’s traditional white robes, while others were dressed in camouflage or black military-style fatigues as they took to the steps of the old Shelby County Courthouse on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

They were surrounded by dozens more police officers and sheriff’s deputies, most of them clad in riot gear, as they held the rally behind a protective fence. Outside, dozens more counterprotesters watched, many of them laughing and recording the Klansmen with mobile-phone cameras.

“I came here today because I want my kids to be able to see what ignorance looks like,” one man told WMC. “I want them to know what the past looks like and what the future shouldn’t look like.”

Community leaders in the city, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, tried to draw attention away from the rally by inviting the public to a daylong “Heart of Memphis” festival “as we celebrate a city of one Memphis, where together, we succeed.”

“We in Memphis and Shelby County and in this region took what could have been the worst of times and turned it into the best of times, in terms of showing that we can tolerate dissent even when the voices are voices that we’re not pleased with,” Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton told reporters Saturday.

The Memphis City Council voted in February to rename Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park – the latter two named for the president of the coalition of Southern states that tried to secede from the United States in 1861 and for the Confederate general who went on to become a Klan leader after the South lost the war.

The measure drew complaints of revisionist history from some citizens but praise from others, WMC reported.