By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The House on Monday voted to approve a bill to bar local governments from renaming parks or monuments honoring Tennessee's military figures - a move the sponsor says is aimed at preventing shifting views and changing "demographics" from erasing memorials to historical figures from the Civil War and other conflicts.
The chamber voted 69-22 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parker's Crossroads. Several Democrats argued the measure was aimed at halting the renaming of parks honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general with a slave-trading past and ties to the early Ku Klux Klan.
McDaniel said his bill is focused on memorials to all military figures and events, regardless of their circumstances, arguing that they shouldn't "be removed just because the wind is blowing in a different direction."
"It's important that we leave to our children and to our grandchildren and to their children, the history of this country, not rewritten, not taken away, but for what it is," he said. "When we start removing these symbols, we take away that history and they never have the opportunity, nor the privilege to know about it."
McDaniel said his bill would not retroactively affect a decision by the Memphis City Council to strip Forrest's name from a downtown park and rename it Health Sciences Park. Also, Confederate Park has been renamed Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park would be known as Mississippi River Park.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville was among the Democrats who said it should be left to local governments to decide the naming of parks. The Forrest example is one where attitudes have changed over time, he said.
"Militarily he was a great tactician, recognized the world over by some of the events he pulled off," Turner said. "But as a person, he lacked some civility about himself. "
McDaniel said his bill would allow local governments seeking to change the names of parks to seek permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
"The demographics of this country and this state are changing, and changing pretty quickly," McDaniel said. "People in the future don't need to be able to remove our history without some permission to do so."
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