Gov. Lee, Racist Laws From 1921 Have No Place In Tennessee Today
We engage in a moral struggle for hearts, minds and souls over ideas. In the New Testament, Paul in Ephesians referred to it as a battle against powers and principalities, and the spiritual forces of evil.
We must take it seriously when the governor of a state salutes a day as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. We erect statues, make edicts, commemorate days, name parks and monuments to celebrate the lives of people, and to capture the minds and hearts of those who will come in future generations. White supremacists in the early 1900’s were busy trying to capture the hearts and minds of many. They wanted to produce a wicked nostalgia for the Confederacy as they erected many statues and monuments throughout the country. They chose to honor Forrest because he was an especially brutal slave trader who led the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow due to his role as Grand Wizard of the KKK during its early days.
These monuments of violence and treason against the nation became golden calves for the idolatry of white supremacy. They served as symbols of a caste system, which they wanted to preserve and harken back to the evils of slavery and white power. Such evil idolatry rallied the violence that accompanied the past history. The number of lynchings and hate crimes that occurred during the rise in these monuments skyrocketed. White supremacists even produced the movie in 1915, Birth of a Nation, which the racist President Woodrow Wilson viewed at the White House and then lauded it. It became a source of evil propaganda to use against African-Americans. It also continued to show the political power and pull of white supremacists as they had influence over nearly every aspect of government.
More monuments and more edicts came, including Tennessee in 1921 with a law stating that each year the governor should recognize Forrest Day. This followed Robert E. Lee Day in 1917 and Confederate Decoration Day in 1903. These laws within each of them have the goal to "invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates."
When our children encounter special days of observances, names of a park, statues, etc., they need examples of people and ideas that are life-giving, creative, and community-building. The above mentioned does not include any such notion for our children. They are poisonous to the community. It is abhorrent that our state continues to recognize Forrest instead of working to change a law steeped in racism and violence. This is why we must boldly speak out against it. We must demand models of love, compassion and peace and remove all symbols of hate and violence from our public squares. History books can remind us of their atrocities in times past so we do not repeat them today and create an evil nostalgia for times of violence and power in our communities now.
Governor Lee, I implore you to do your due diligence as governor of the state of Tennessee to use your power and work to move our legislative body forward to change these antiquated racist laws. We do not want our state to be a model of white supremacy. We want our state to be a beacon of equality and justice for all. We have plenty of models of leaders who are worthy of uplifting—James Lawson, Diane Nash, Will Campbell, Wilma Rudolph and countless others. Please work towards pushing for models such as these who have blazed the trail for freedoms for all Tennesseans.
I look forward to your work removing the icons of hate and violence and to replace them with icons of peace and justice.
Rev. David M. Weatherspoon, MDiv., BCC