By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — There is some irony in relocating the Memphis Juneteenth Festival from the historic Robert R. Church Park on “World Famous” Beale Street to Health Sciences Park, where Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, are entombed.
The move is official after Telisa Franklin, Juneteenth’s president, announced April 30 that the festival has partnered with Memphis Greenspace, Inc., the non-profit organization that maintains the park.
The new location is deemed a fitting move for the annual festival in Memphis, Franklin pointed out, which is a national holiday in the United States commemorating the end of slavery for African Americans.
This year’s festival will be observed June 18 and 19 at Health Sciences Park (formerly Forrest Park) at the intersection of Madison Avenue and South Dunlap Street, near the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Earnest Pugh, a gospel singer and native Memphian, will headline the festival. Music is a staple at Juneteenth, along with food vendors, something for children, and an educational component.
“That park has so much significance. It was not what we were then,” Franklin said. “For Black people, Juneteenth means freedom. Now you’ll see Black people and white people working together on the burial ground of a slave owner and trader and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Forrest lived and died in Memphis Oct. 29, 1877. He was 56.
“…This will be the first year that the day is recognized by the state, county, and the city of Memphis,” Franklin continued. “Although the day is recognized, Black people in America are still fighting for our lives and economic freedom.”
Van D. Turner Jr., director and president of Memphis Greenspace, Inc. and Shelby County Commissioner representing District 12, said he was happy to help orchestrate Juneteenth’s move to Health Sciences Park.
“We need redemption. We need hope. We need a path forward. We need to dig out of poverty. We need to dig out of crime,” he said.
Turner was at the center of controversy in 2017 when Memphis Greenspace purchased the park from the city of Memphis and another Confederate park for $1,000 each. Shortly thereafter, the equestrian statue of Forrest was removed Dec. 20 from its base.
The move was triggered by a nationwide hullabaloo over the takedown of Confederate monuments and the affront to Black people who believed the monuments were erected to keep the legacy of slavery and white supremacy alive.
“We are turning the pages of history today,” said Elaine Turner, director of Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, a 19th century home that was part of the Underground Railroad. “We are rededicating this park. Juneteenth means freedom…. We are reclaiming our history on this ground.”