- Formerly named Confederate Park, a legacy of the Civil War, is going through a redesign in Memphis
- The new park is transforming into a welcoming place for all
- Patience was key – it has not been a short process
- Transferring ownership of the park to a local non-profit organization proved a crucial strategy in taking down Confederacy statues
Civil War Legacy Transforms into a New Park
A space formerly known as Confederate Park is going through a redesign, one that transforms the legacy of the Civil War into a place that welcomes everyone.
Just down the bluff, another space named after Jefferson Davis is being redubbed and redesigned, as well.
The space of the latter, renamed River Garden, is small—just the length of a city block—now turned into a destination: a giant “treehouse,” with climbing nets, hammock swings, and human-sized bird nests that look-out over the Mississippi River.
The former, just up the bluff at Fourth Bluff Park, new patio furniture sits in the space formerly occupied by a Confederate statue. Now downtown employees can meet comfortably and talk over lunch. Birdhouses painted by local students are sprinkled throughout the park in addition to more trees.
Confederate Monuments Stand No More
It wasn’t always so. When the Downtown Memphis Commission began activating Memphis Park as a park inside the “Reimagining the Civic Commons” boundary, it didn’t take long for a clear obstacle to make its presence known: remnants of Confederate monuments, Civil War cannons, historical markers, and a 50-year-old statue of Jefferson Davis still stood in the park.
The markers, (remnants of the park’s former name, Confederate Park), were not something visitors could overlook.
Soon an activist campaign and legal battle ensued taking aim at the statues. Transferring ownership of the park to a local non-profit was a key strategy in taking down the Confederacy statues.
Then a narrative-changing community event, Memphis’ first Diner en Blanc, (a mass “chic picnic” that is kept secret until minutes before the event opens), was held on Saturday, August 4, 2018. People began noticing the park aspects of the park: the beautiful old trees, the incredible views from the bluff onto the riverfront, and the river itself.
However, the base of one statue still remained. During the fall of 2019, the last pieces of Confederate Park were removed, replaced with bistro furniture, new trees to emphasize the park’s natural beauty, and new pathways designed to connect people to River Garden in the west, and Court Square to the east.
“Instead of going monumental in the very next iteration of the Park, we thought people should be invited to use the space,” said Carol Coletta, President and CEO of the Memphis River Parks Partnership.
The Memphis River Parks Partnership, a nonprofit (501c3) organization, stewards the riverfront on behalf of the people of Memphis. The partnership works to create a connected, catalytic and fun riverfront for all.
“Everything about the new park was built with an eye towards equity and inclusion,” said Coletta, who in addition to running the Memphis Partnership is a Senior Fellow with the Kresge Foundation. Coletta leads Kresge’s, Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative as part of its American Cities Practice.
Just one week before the two-year anniversary of the statues’ removal, the inaugural event, “Holiday Night Market” took place to reintroduce the space to Memphians.
Today, Memphis riverfront parks are bustling.
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