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VOL. 46 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 5, 2022

Forest or Forrest? Little city tackles a thorny issue

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The city of Forest Hills here in Davidson County wants to rename some of its streets that have Civil War associations, to which my first thought was: Forest Hills is a city?

Second thought, more on point: This could be interesting.

The streets in question are Confederate Drive, Robert E. Lee Drive, Robert E. Lee Court, Jefferson Davis Drive and General Forrest Court. I don’t think I need to explain what the issue is.

Reading of the city’s intention left me wondering whether the rest of Davidson County is littered with other, similarly themed roadways. So I pored over a list of the county’s street names.

The most gratifying result was the discovery that there is a Hobbit Lane and a Tolkien Lane. There also is a No Name Road, which ought to qualify for some kind of award for self-contradiction.

As to Civil War connections, it can be hard to tell. There’s a Stonewall Jackson Court, which is pretty clear. (Is there any better military nickname? I don’t even know the guy’s real name.) And I have to figure Bull Run Road commemorates the first battle of the Civil War, a Confederate victory.

After that, it depends. Is General Bate Drive named for William Brimage Bate, a major general in the Confederate Army who was also a governor and senator? Is General Hood Trail named for John Bell Hood, the West Point graduate who came to command the Army of Tennessee for the side wearing gray? I don’t know.

No such ambiguity for the Forest Hills streets. I’m surprised there’s no Rebel Yell Way, or The South Shall Rise Again Boulevard.

Not our fault, Forest Hills officials say: “The streets in Forest Hills ... were all named by private developers. The city did not select the street names. Neither did members of the public.”

As to the reasoning behind the effort to change the names: “An ever-growing number of people in the United States, the Southern states and Tennessee have come to question or oppose memorials to persons whose historical notoriety consists of service in a political secession movement that was opposed to the abolition of slavery.”

Those statements come from a petition by the city to the Tennessee Historical Commission seeking permission for the renaming. State legislators, you see, have made tampering with Civil War memorials – and the city assumes these streets qualify – no simple matter. Witness the protracted effort to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest – he of the General Forrest Court in Forest Hills – from the State Capitol.

The petition also states people have long been asking to have the street names changed, including people who live on the streets. What’s more, the signs proclaiming the street names have been vandalized over the years, the petition states.

And, given the state of things in the country today, officials worry that the mayhem could at some point involve more than just the signs.

“The city is concerned about the possibility of additional damage to property and violence to persons, as violence relating to memorials named for the historic entity and persons has increased around the country.”

I think we can agree that opinions run pretty hot on this issue, and run hottest of all on the side that argues for “protecting history,” as it were. In this case, city officials figure they have history in their corner:

“None of the historic figures have any historical connection to Forest Hills or any events in Forest Hills. Only one has any historical connection at all to the State of Tennessee.”

Among the possibilities for new names: Bent Tree Drive, Orchard Hill Drive, Box Turtle Court, Red Tail Hawk Drive and Winterberry Drive. I find those a bit prosaic – OK, Box Turtle Court is kind of fun – but certainly preferable to the current names.

I hope the Historical Commission green-lights the changes. And after all the hubbub about the Forrest bust, I’d like to see someone take up the cause of the elephant that still remains in the room: Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park.

Surely there’s another Tennessean more worthy of the honor.

We have 56 state parks, by the way, and from what I can see it appears that not a single one is named for a woman. Just saying.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@bmail.com

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