Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee shows true colors

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Once again, Tennessee has been catapulted into the national spotlight with actions manifested by its governor, Bill Lee, who proclaimed July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day to be recognized and celebrated as mandated by Tennessee law. It is the scandalous notoriety of the figure being honored, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, that raises red flags.

Honor laws if you must, but is it morally and socially responsible to honor a contentious Tennessee Confederate general who was a slave trader, first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, and a perpetrator in the Fort Pillow slaughter in which 300 Union troops were killed, mostly African Americans? It just seems like common sense and a respect for all the constituents of Tennessee (especially those of African American descent) that Gov. Lee would refuse to honor a law that disrespects and causes pain and hurt to the descendants of slaves.

Maybe Gov. Lee didn’t recognize or care that a significant amount of the people who he was elected to represent are African Americans. Regardless of what a plethora of his base may feel concerning the right to honor their Confederate heroes, the African Americans and people concerned with correcting the human inequalities and systematic continuation of discrimination are appalled. Apparently, their feelings don’t seem to count.

Recognize and venerate your beloved Confederate heroes if you must, but this would better served in the privacy of your homes or possible a museum (because they do represent history)—not in public venues, especially in our state capital or parks where all state occupants pay taxes to support their visibility and support. Make no mistake, for many Forrest’s image represents White supremacy and racism.

Please, please, please, don’t try to rationalize the support of such a figure that we all know was an ardent supporter of slavery and White supremacy. It is no surprise that you have some Whites who are trying to change the narrative of his hideous and atrocious legacy. They claim he had a change of heart in his older days.

Would Hitler be deemed a notable and respectable person to be honored if he had befriended and did some kind deeds to a handful of Jews during his twilight years?

I argue naught. In fact, there is no way Hitler is celebrated publically anywhere in the world. We are not being told to forget Hitler or the Holocaust and just to get over it. Jews don’t want the world to ever forget the cruel and inhumane annihilation of six million Jews under his reign. Why would one condemn descendants of slavery who believe it’s wrong to honor those who blatantly contributed to the treacherous and nefarious institution of slavery?

Sadly, there may be some diehard White supremacists who idolizes Hitler. But there is no way on God’s green earth he will ever be publically honored and venerated. The message is to never forget this massacre so it will never happen again. So why does our governor or anyone else assume that African Americans feel any less hurt or disrespect when such a man as Nathan Bedford Forrest is honored with a special day?

Damn, damn, damn! Why are the feeling of Blacks negated or trivialized by so many of our White counterparts? Our feelings are real and count like everyone else’s. Blacks commiserate with everyone else’s pain, so why does our pain and suffering come across as irrelevant or inconsequential?

I can only surmise that Gov. Lee supports a large group of his White Republican constituency that adamantly supports public Confederate monuments honoring slavery and White supremacy. I say this because he could have easily refused to honor the signing of this proclamation that totally disrespects a significant part of his constituents. I doubt if he would have been arrested or fined. I also find it ironic because of his claim for representing moral and Christian values.

As a whole, Tennesseans wouldn’t be surprised or feel he was being legitimately sincere if national backlash caused Gov. Lee to defend or apologize for his controversial actions. It would be all about minimizing damage control with his African American constituents and shielding himself from the national outcry from some of his outraged political colleagues.

During this time of pending elections, I find it refreshing that we have elected officials such as Vince Dixie, Brenda Gilmore, and Harold Love speaking out against the governor and demanding immediate change. Until now, Brenda Gilmore was the only elected official I personally saw working fervently and diligently to remove the bust of Nathan Belford Nathan from our State Capital Building. I really don’t understand how African American elected officials can walk past the bust daily and not be appalled and feel disrespected. It is unacceptable. As an African American, I cannot support any candidate running for any public office who doesn’t feel committed and passionate about banishing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from our state Capital.

I personally propose a national boycott against Nashville and Tennessee until the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest is removed—since money is the only thing that seems to matter politically. Any organization, social group, fraternity, sorority or advocates respecting human dignity and decency should support this boycott. I especially call for support from the music community. Let’s eradicate our state from the vestiges representing overt racism and White supremacy. We are much more than this.