Tennessee holds on to Nathan Bedford Forrest bust

William T. Robinson, Jr.

The country has spoken through action with numerous protests nationally, denouncing racial inequality. These protests that continue daily were sparked by the death of George Floyd—killed by Officer Derek Chauvin who was aided by three of his fellow officers. They were all arrested and booked. The protests’ primary goals are sparked by Black Lives Matter calling for systemic changes in law enforcement agencies. Policing must be made to remedy the cancer that threatens to bring this country to its knees.

There is no question that tension arising from racial inequality and unnecessary use of force by some officers has reached a crescendo, creating a powder keg that has the potential to rock the foundation of this nation. There’s no possibility that this movement will cease and disappear with things going ‘back to normal.’ This is a crucial time in our history for institutions, industries, municipalities, and state and federal governments to change their modus operandi and show some sensitivity in the treatment of people (particularly Blacks and people of color).

Law enforcement agencies throughout the country have already started making drastic changes in policies, practices and protocol in training and operation. Some states have enacted legislation outlawing neck holds. In fact, there is a national outcry to defund or redirect monies to preventive programs in communities’ law enforcement agencies in major cities.

Racial sensitivity is crucial going forward in mitigating some of the hostile feeling occurring in many African American communities. That is why many people find it ironic that Tennessee continues to hold on to a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in its Capitol Building. Not only is it extremely insensitive to the feelings of African Americans in Tennessee, it  has also become an incendiary  hazard  that  can only bring more negative  and hostile  attention  to the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee .  Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Klux Klux Klan, a Confederate general and a slave trader who oversaw the massacre of hundreds of surrendered Black Union troops at Fort Pillow. His bust is protected by Tennessee law.

Forrest’s bust has been a major object of contention for years, but Tennessee state lawmakers voted to leave it intact after a vote of 11 to five.  This action was contradictory to the growing movement by numerous cities and towns to remove Confederate monuments from public venues all over the country.

The supporters of the bust evidently felt its historic significance outweighed the hurt and disrespect it may cause Black Tennesseans. Such action is why thousands of people are taking to the streets daily to demand an end to racial inequality. That means you can’t have a dis-unifying symbol representing White supremacy and racism in our Capitol Building. Bedford’s bust represents everything the demonstrators throughout the nation are protesting.

Tennessean must understand that if they truly feel Black Lives Matter, then honoring and respecting African Americans’ feelings matters. But make no mistake, while some Whites feel Forrest’s bust honors their Confederate heritage and legacy, it’s also a symbol representing slavery, White supremacy and racism. Tennesseans need to ask themselves if “honoring White heritage at the expense of the feelings of slave descendants” is worth it.

You can honor Confederate ancestors in private venues like your homes and museums (which have an obligation to display history), but not in public venues, which utilize (in part) the taxes of Blacks. Sometimes people and events fall on the wrong side of history and you must acknowledge that the Confederacy was treasonous. Fighting for the cause of slavery was wrong and immoral. Love and revere your Confederate descendants, but they should not be honored publicly.

Tennessee has thousands of young White protesters marching to change the systemic, institutionalized practice of disrespecting and trivializing the feelings of their fellow brothers and sisters. Whites along with Blacks are saying ‘enough is enough.’ Let’s end the nefarious practice of racial inequality and insensitivity and go forward in love, respect, equality, justice, and peace. Surely, something could be done to immediately remove the bust to offset negative violence.

Nashville should also note that all the demonstrating downtown is hurting some of its businesses.

I can only hope the older Whites who have lived all their lives practicing racism and White supremacy can let go of that and follow the path of racial equality and love. Their children and grandchildren have already adopted this path. Changes to combat the vestiges of racial inequality are imminent and ongoing. Get on board or get out of the way. Those lawmakers who are not onboard (trying to hold on to status quo) are being served notice. Your time in office is limited. It is so sad that Tennessee has to be forced to do the right thing, but the bust will be removed.

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