by Tim Huebner
In collaboration with Rhodes College, Calvary will unveil and dedicate a new historic marker at the site of the antebellum slave mart operated by Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis. The dedication of the marker will occur as part of a “Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation,” to be held at Calvary at noon on April 4.
An existing marker on B.B. King at Adams, placed by the Tennessee Historical Commission in 1955, only mentions that Forrest had a home at the site and that he became wealthy from his “business enterprises.” It neglects to mention that Forrest’s home stood adjacent to the slave yard, which Forrest owned and operated between 1854 and 1860. As a slave trader, Forrest sold thousands of enslaved men, women, and children at the site. Most probably ended up on plantations in the Mississippi Delta region and further south.
This trade in human beings occurred next to Calvary, which had been built in 1843 at the corner of Adams and Second. The property owned by Forrest is now part of our parking lot.
Last fall, students in my “Historical Methods” class at Rhodes researched and wrote the text for the new marker. Based on extensive work in local libraries and archives, students identified many of the names of the enslaved persons sold by Forrest. A portion of these names will be read during the service.
This service will offer us the chance to remember some of the enslaved people who were sold at the site, people whose names, for the most part, have been lost to history. Naming these names and confronting the truth about this part of our past will help us to build trust, in the hope of carrying out the ongoing work of racial reconciliation in our city.
Hosting this event—on the date of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis—will help us to live out our calling in the community. Honoring these souls will help us to live out our baptismal covenant of “respecting the dignity of every human being,” as well as Calvary’s mission of “making God’s love visible in Downtown Memphis.”
I hope that you’ll make plans to be there.