TN journalist deserves recognition in Capitol

Frank CagleFrank Talk

You probably have never heard of Ida B. Wells and that’s a crying shame. There has to be an empty alcove in the state Capitol and her bust should be there. We’ve had all this controversy about racists being honored on The Hill, it’s time we redressed the balance.

Frank Cagle

Ida Wells was born into slavery, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and died in 1931. Last week she was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Wells was a teacher in the Memphis schools until she was fired for writing newspaper articles about Jim Crow. She became the editor and part owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. Her articles and a book about blacks being murdered by lynching led to a white mob destroying her printing press. A white Memphis newspaper editor encouraged violence against her to shut her up and she had to move to Chicago.

She lectured widely on civil rights and women’s suffrage and was involved in founding the NAACP.

Eric Schelzig at the Tennessee Journal notes the irony in the fact that the racist newspaper editor, one Edward Ward Carmack, has a statue in his honor on the Capitol lawn. Carmack once wrote an editorial criticizing Wells and defending mob violence because it was the result of the noble effort to protect the virtue of Southern white women. Wells wrote a book examining lynching in Memphis and the South demonstrating that lynchings were used to intimidate blacks and to dispel the myth that those lynched were criminals and rapists.

Ida B. Wells (book available from

Carmack went on to become a U.S. senator, back when they were appointed by the legislature. He failed to get re-elected and he lost a bid for governor.

A Capitol Hill statue honoring Carmack and no recognition of Wells is a greater miscarriage of justice than a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest hanging around.

Republican legislators should move quickly to remedy this injustice and honor a fellow Republican. And the black caucus should make it a bipartisan effort. Perhaps they could all kick in some leftover campaign funds to commission the bust and install it.

While they are at it, they can move the statue of Carmack to a warehouse someplace. He has no redeeming social or historical value. Well, except he was editor of the forerunner of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and after losing a race for governor he became the editor of the Nashville Tennessean. His claim to fame seems to have been getting gunned down in the street by a political rival.

Obsession: A Nashville judge has ruled that Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher bill is unconstitutional. The state budget will soon be cut by hundreds of millions of dollars. But Lee is determined to spend $38 million to start the program in Nashville and Memphis this fall. Even after the program was ruled illegally authorized, a judge had to step in and stop him from continuing to have parents sign up for the program.

The question now is whether the legislature will pass a bare bones budget that leaves blood on the floor yet leave the $38 million in it. The program wasn’t scheduled to start until 2021, but Lee is frantically trying to get it entrained this fall. As with his effort to keep signing up parents for a program ruled unconstitutional, he knows the further along he can get the state committed, money spent and parents and children’s education disrupted by change the harder it will be to call a halt.

Dolly would: Given the coronavirus carnage inflicted on the state in lives and economic damage people have been asked to step up. It comes as no surprise that Dolly Parton would be one of the first. While country stars are doing public service announcements Dolly wrote a million-dollar check to Vanderbilt Hospital to go toward research on combating the virus. Just one more reason we love her.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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