Tennessee’s Love Affair With Its Racist Past Must End

I live in a state that is required by law to observe Nathan Bedford Forest. Today.

In his first year as Tennessee’s 50th governor, Governor Bill Lee signed a proclamation designating July 13 a day to observe the guy as a “recognized military figure and native Tennessean.” According to Gov. Lee, he signed the proclamation because the law requires him to do so. Just as every Democrat and Republican governor has before him.

Pro-tip: The fact that it is a law doesn’t make it right. Just ask Ted Cruz.

I reject July 13 as NBF day. I will instead use this day to amplify injustice. Tennessee’s fascination with men who enslaved and murdered Black people is wrong and the laws that require the state to honor them can and should be changed. Like Ted said.

Additionally, I like the idea tweeted by Tennessee State University professor Dr. Learotha Williams, to declare July 13 a day to observe two important Tennesseans who are not “recognized military figures” but are certainly decorated warriors against domestic terrorism, also known as racism.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born in Mississippi but at the age of 16 moved her siblings to Tennessee after both parents and a younger sibling died of Yellow Fever. Wells was an educator, fearless journalist, and Black women’s rights activist. Wells-Barnett is perhaps best known for her relentless investigative reporting on the lynching of Black men in the South which led to the burning of her press and attempts on her life.

Wells-Barnett left the South and continued her anti-lynching, women’s rights activism and was one of the founders of the NAACP.

More on Wells-Barnett.

Z. Alexander Looby

Note several names below are seen on government buildings with little to no knowledge about the people behind the moniker.

Looby was a brilliant attorney who worked with the likes of Thurgood Marshall and also responsible for successfully arguing the local landmark integration case on behalf of A. Z. Kelly, a black man whose son was denied access to a white school closed to his home.

A seminal moment in Nashville history is the bombing of Looby’s home, the impetus for Nashville’s Silent March where thousands of people marched to city hall to demand an end to segregated lunch counters (see Diane Nash). Integration of Nashville businesses soon followed.

Looby along with Robert E. Lillard was the first Black people elected to serve on Nashville’s city council.

More on Z. Alexander Looby.

Do Better, Tennessee

I think about the sacrifices made by Tennessee’s civil rights leaders and activists and how easily Tennessee governors protect the legacies of the architects of systemic injustices and maintain real estate in the state capitol (Forrest bust).

It’s a kick in the teeth to those of us still in the fight. Change the law. And while you’re at it, remove the bust.

4 thoughts on “Tennessee’s Love Affair With Its Racist Past Must End

  1. I had to drive by I-40 exit for NBF State Park Saturday going back and forth to Jackson TN area. It’s frankly unbelievable. It may be the wrong time to offer a glimmer of hope – but I can say that all my white friends join me and Ted Cruz 🙂 in want the changes you want. I bet we are up to 30% of whites in TN thinking clearly, maybe 35%, from 0.000001% in 1866.

    While we await that number to cross 40%, I’d gladly join you in celebration of the real leaders you mentioned. What do we do next year? FB Group? Yard signs? More Metro Nashville council resolutions?

    Or, are our energies better spent fighting the underlying sickness, manifest in housing policies, segregated “choice” schools, school vouchers, and other evils….?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The same state government that celebrates White Supremacy is also responsible for ensuring its most marginalized public school students – mostly Black and Brown- has educational success. In my view, it’s all connected. We have to fight racist history and those who make it their mission to fight to keep educational excellence in the hands of the few.


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