Juneteenth festival to continue at Memphis park as removal of Confederate general’s remains underway

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 5:41 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s been almost a week since work began in Health Sciences Park to remove the remains of Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and his wife.

The excavation is expected to last several more weeks.

One crew member who spoke to WMC off-camera said the reason behind how long it takes is due to the age of the memorial and the remains, well over 100 years, as well as the efforts to keep everything intact.

The remains’ new home will be nearly 200 miles away in Columbia, Tennessee. The removal is expected to last into the Juneteenth celebration next weekend.

“This is our first year in Health Sciences Park,” said Telisa Franklin, the president of Memphis Juneteenth.

Franklin says it’s purely coincidental that in the festival’s 28-year history in Memphis, eight with her as president, its first year in Health Sciences Park is at the same time as the removal of the Forrest remains.

Nevertheless, she says it’s symbolic to potentially share the grounds with the Confederate general.

“We all know the story and the history of Nathan Bedford Forrest, and we understand what his occupation was, what he did, and how he made black people like me feel,” said Franklin.

The Juneteenth president said there was a time when black people were not allowed at Health Sciences Park, part of the reason why the festival is being held at the park. Franklin said it’s important to remember that history.

“Yes, it happened. We will never forget it happened, but we are going to embrace the healing that’s taking place in our city,” she said.

That history will also be visible during the festival.

Walking through the grounds of the park, Franklin showed a rough layout of the festival, from stages to vendors and the outdoor history museum she plans to temporarily erect.

“All about Juneteenth,” she said. “You’re going to have even history of Nathan Bedford Forrest because we don’t want to forget that. We sure don’t want to forget all the other things that happened in our world.”

What’s more is this Juneteenth will be the first year in Shelby County that Juneteenth will be a paid holiday for county employees after it was made so by the county commission this time last year.

The festival is June 18 through June 19.

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