The editor of the Tennessee Lookout challenged anyone to write a column explaining why Nathan Bedford Forrest should be honored at all, much less have a bronze bust in the state capitol.
I’m happy to oblige.
After the War of Northern Aggression, the Democratic party was in dire straits. Just because they won the war and freed the slaves, the Republican Yankees insisted that black people vote and even hold public office. They even tried to prevent some Confederate officials from voting, because of that whole treason thing. But Democratic President Andrew Johnson from Tennessee pardoned them and began to turn state governments back over to the planters who had run them before the war.
In recognition of his success in turning Southern state governments back over to slave owners, Johnson has his own statue on the state capitol grounds.
The Republicans impeached Johnson, but he was not convicted. In a later time, his fellow Democrat, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, had a staffer write a book called Profiles in Courage (for which Kennedy accepted the Pulitzer Prize) lauding the senator who cast the deciding vote to prevent Johnson from being convicted and sent back to his tailor shop. So, Johnson was allowed to negate the Yankee victory and the death of 600,000 to 700,000 American soldiers by delivering the South’s black population back into servitude through the use of the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws.
Even though Confederate officers would eventually be back running state governments, the South was in turmoil and things were really unsettled in 1867. It was at such a time that Nathan Bedford Forrest stepped up. He led the paramilitary wing of the Democratic party that had to resort to some unpleasant vigilante actions to restore the natural order of things. The paramilitary group, known as the Ku Klux Klan, went underground at various times, but for the next 100 years they are always around to protect Democratic majorities and prevent black people from committing voter fraud by avoiding poll taxes, being unable to recite whole sections of the U.S. Constitution or other simple requirements to register to vote.
Anyone who helped organize and lead an organization of Democrats that was able to keep the political party in power in most Southern states for 100 years is deserving of mention. Forrest paved the way for future Democratic icons. A few notable examples include George Wallace, Bull Conner, Lester Maddox and Orval Faubus.
That’s why in 1978, after a beloved and revered Nashville Democratic state senator named Douglas Henry passed legislation and commissioned a bust of Forrest, it was installed in the state capitol. For the next three decades the Democrats controlled the legislature and only did so with the support and votes of the Black Caucus. Yet the bust of Forrest remained sacrosanct.
I guess, unlike those Democratic legislators, the people who want to remove the bust of Forrest just have no sense of history.
And if you want me to explain why the Republicans who control the legislature now want to keep the bust, all I can tell you is I have no clue.
Cleaning out the notebook
- All Lives Matter, except old people who are unproductive and a drag on the economy. At least according to Twitter and the lieutenant governor of Texas.
- Who is J.D. Power and why should I care? Someone evidently pays him to hand out awards for “Initial Quality.” I think that means that whatever crap you bought didn’t break right away.
- It often seems like disasters come in threes. This year we have had a pandemic, we have had Donald Trump as president and now the locusts are eating up North Africa and the cicadas are about to emerge on the East Coast.
- Malls across America are closing, like Knoxville Off-Center mall that was actually in East Knoxville. Yet West Town mall is currently building a two-story addition. Despite the existence of Turkey Creek. Go figure.
- The country group Lady Antebellum has changed its name to Lady A, ’cause Antebellum is racist. Really? I guess it will make a difference now that the band is called Lady A, formerly Lady Antebellum. When idiot protesters deface the Lincoln Memorial what makes you think they even know what Antebellum means?
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.