In a time when racial tension is at the forefront of national awareness, attention is focused on Tennessee where Gov. Bill Haslam proclaimed Monday, July 13, as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. For many people, especially those of African American descent, this action is unforgivable. It doesn’t help racial harmony proclaimed from a governor who has snubbed the President of the United States, Barack Obama, consistently, by refusing to greet him during his three visits to Tennessee. Regardless of the excuses made by the governor, it is apparent that his political party’s opposition to the president’s views and direction clouds his ability to be respectful and cordial to our president.
As a public figure , the governor should represent all the people in the state. However, he has consistently disrespected the feelings of the Black community as a whole who feel when you disrespect the president of the Unite States, you’re disrespecting people of color. It is understandable that differences in political views by various groups or parties is inevitable, but let’s not play games and insult the intelligence of people who see a blatant disrespect by a governor who at times seems to be unconcerned and indifferent to their feelings.
In all honesty, many African Americans in Tennessee speculate that the actions of Haslam at times border on that of a racist and bigot, arrogantly showing that he could care less about the feelings of African Americans unless pressured. Many people attribute that to his position of wealth, privilege, making him incapable of consistently identifying or dealing with the real daily problems of the common man—including people of color.
In all fairness, while originally opposing the Affordable Care Act , which many conservatives dubbed as Obamacare, Haslam eventually pushed Insure Tennessee, a health plan which would have expanded federally funded health insurance to 280,000 low income Tennesseans. Although his party didn’t approve it, he demonstrated he was able to show some sensitivity for thousands of uninsured Tennesseans without health care. Sometimes, regardless of pressure from those around you, you must follow your moral conscience and do the right thing regardless of the negative backlash. However, he has advocated not displaying the Confederate flag publically and removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capital building. Many found it ironic that he proclaimed Nathan Belford Day, regardless of the consequences. Wham! Some saw it as nothing short of a slap in the face to African Americans in our state and the country.
Haslam rationalized he was obligated by a code in state law to proclaim November 13 as Nathan Belford Forrest Day, but sometimes one must follow their own heart, regardless of the backlash or consequences. Many Tennesseans were hoping that Haslam would refuse, citing it as unethical and immoral to proclaim it a holiday for a public historic figure with such a horrendous past—especially if it served as a hurtful and divisive tool for a great many of his constituents.
How can you dismiss the fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Clan, slaughterer of 300
Black soldiers at Ft. Pillow, and an adamant supporter of White supremacy? There are those who try to honor his memory by rationalizing that he had a change of heart in later years, advocating for African American’s inclusion in many areas. While that may be up for contention, I ask would you honor or vindicate Hitler for a few humanitarian gestures on his part, overlooking his history of orchestrating the murder of six million Jews? I think not. But we are made to literally overlook the horrendous actions of Nathan Belford Forrest because he represents an indelible part of the Confederate legacy that some Whites feel is an important part of their heritage.
You don’t have to forget Nathan Belford Forrest or the Confederate flag if you chose, but out of respect for African Americans these Confederate symbols should be displayed in your own private homes and in museums, not in public venues. Public observance of these symbols only aids in further trivializing and disrespecting the feeling of African Americans who see these symbols or images as remnants representing slavery, hate and White supremacy. If this is part of a legacy to celebrate and defend with pride, we are definitely divided. It is sad that these legacies of hate and White supremacy still seem to prevail over love, respect, and sensitivity to many White southerners.