Despite Protests from Black Lawmakers, House Adopts So-Called Heritage Protection Act

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The state House commemorated Black History Month this evening with prayer, dramatic readings and songs from the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Then it was back to regular business for the white Republican supermajority: Telling the rest of us who's boss.

Right off the bat without even a hint of irony, the House voted 69-22 for the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013. It bars cities or counties from changing the names of parks, streets, monuments or just about anything memorializing nearly any war or military conflict in human history.

The wide-open language is an obvious attempt to disguise the bill’s real purpose, which is to stop local governments from changing the names of parks that celebrate the Confederacy. Who cares whether the majority of the voters in these cities or counties find these park names racist or offensive?

“If we begin to remove those pieces of history across this state, then one doesn’t get an accurate view of our history,” sponsor Rep. Steve McDaniel said.

Democrats tried to amend the bill to also prohibit changes to names of parks that celebrate civil rights leaders, but Republicans tabled it.

“Are you trying to just preserve a certain aspect of history in the country?” asked Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis.

The bill was intended to stop Memphis from renaming that city's Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park, but it was too late. The Memphis City Council stopped talking about it and went ahead and renamed the parks after learning about McDaniel’s bill.

McDaniel, a Civil War buff and battle reenactor, said he objects to city councils changing the names of parks “just because the wind is blowing a different direction.” Under this bill, local governments that want to change names will have to ask the Tennessee Historical Commis­sion for permission.

“I sponsored this bill to preserve history and I was not prompted by any other actions that may have occurred in any place in this state. … When we start removing these symbols, we take away that history and they never have the opportunity nor the privilege to know about it,” he said.

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