David Waters, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
A new Downtown historical marker will “tell the whole story” about Nathan Bedford Forrest and the antebellum slave trade in Memphis.
The new marker, sponsored by Calvary Episcopal Church, Rhodes College and the National Park Service, will be unveiled and dedicated April 4.
It will be erected near the corner of Adams Avenue and B.B. King Blvd., on the church’s property and near a 1955 historical marker for “Forrest’s Early Home.”
The 1955 marker notes that Forrest’s “business enterprises made him wealthy.” It fails to note that Forrest’s primary business enterprise, operated on that site, was slave trading.
That 60-word marker “didn’t tell the whole story,” said Tim Huebner, a Rhodes College history professor and Calvary Church member.
The new 462-word marker will be titled “Forrest and the Memphis Slave Trade.” Huebner says it will be the only historical marker in Memphis that refers to the slave trade.
The new marker will note that “From 1854 to 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest operated a profitable slave trading business at this site.” It also will note that “Forrest uniquely engaged in the buying and selling of Africans illegally smuggled into the United States, in violation of an 1808 congressional ban.”
The new marker will include information about the Memphis slave trade, that Forrest was one of eight slave traders in Memphis, and one of five located on Adams. It also will include a quote from Horatio Eden, “who was sold from Forrest’s yard as a child”.
The text for the new marker was written by some of Huebner’s students, who spent last semester researching Forrest and the Memphis slave trade.
The text was reviewed and approved by local professors Earnestine Jenkins, Beverly Bond, and Susan Donovan of the University of Memphis, and Charles McKinney of Rhodes, and Timothy Good of the National Park Service.
Efforts to set the record straight about Forrest’s “business enterprises” began in December 2015, when local clergy and members of the Memphis Lynching Sites Project held a “Prayer Service for Truth and Justice” at the foot of the 1955 marker.
The group called on state and local officials to revise the old sign and “all other markers that do not tell the whole truth about our history.” They also began making plans to mark the sites of “all known lynchings in Shelby County.”
Meanwhile, in 2016, Huebner and other Calvary Church members began discussing ways to improve the block around the church. Huebner researched the block’s history.
“Every Sunday, I’d park in the church lot and realize that it once was the site of a slave market,” Huebner said. “And yet there was no mention of that deplorable history anywhere. We felt that needed to be acknowledged.”