Wallen & Combs Should Call for The TN Capitol’s KKK Statue To Be Removed

OPINION: Country Stars Wallen & Combs Should Call for The TN Capitol’s KKK Statue To Be Removed

By

Justin Kanew

By now most of you have seen the recent video of Morgan Wallen using the “N word” in Nashville, which shook the country music world.

His label dropped him. Radio stations stopped playing his songs. The fallout was significant. 

This opinion piece by Charlane Oliver of the Equity Alliance tackles the racial significance of the incident as it pertains to country music. It’s a worthwhile read.

Now this week we heard from another country star, Luke Combs, who says “there’s no excuse” for his use of Confederate flag imagery in his performances, and acknowledges the hurt and pain it caused.

Both artists are apologetic, and seek forgiveness. But apologies are easy. There’s another step they could take that would help bring about some actual progress – not only in country music, but in Nashville specifically, Tennessee in general, and America as a whole.

They could speak out about the KKK Grand Wizard statue that still sits prominently in our capitol.

Yes, you heard that right – Tennessee still holds a statue of the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, in a place of prominence in the state capitol building. Forrest was a Confederate General who led the Fort Pillow Massacre, during which many black Union soldiers were slaughtered even after surrender, then went on to become the KKK’s first Grand Wizard.

Defenders of the Forrest bust claim he was eventually reformed. That he changed his tune in his later years. Regardless of the veracity of that claim, they can’t erase the harm he caused, and what he represents to the many black Tennesseans who have been calling for the statue’s removal.

Legislators like Rep. Mike Sparks, who refuses to even admit the Civil War was fought over slavery, say they’re against “whitewashing history” – ignoring the fact that it’s the statues themselves that whitewash history, treating Confederate generals who rose up against our country as heroes.

There’s a reason KKK members posed proudly with the statue when it was erected.

The fight to remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue has been going on for years. There have been countless protests. Pastors, students, activists, and legislators have all made their voices heard… but still it remains.

Last year a big hurdle was overcome, as the Tennessee State Capitol Commission finally voted to move it despite “NO” votes from Senator Jack Johnson on behalf of the TN Senate Republican caucus and Rep. Matthew Hill on behalf of the TN House Republican caucus.

The next step was supposed to come this week, when the Tennessee Historical Commission was scheduled to vote on the Capitol Commission’s recommendation, but because of the cold weather it has been delayed until March 9th.

Meanwhile, Lt. Governor Randy Mcnally and Speaker Cameron Sexton have been busy trying to delay it even further, claiming the issue isn’t properly before the Historical Commission and asking the attorney general to weigh in with an opinion.

Delay, delay, delay. It’s obvious Mcnally and Sexton and their caucuses are doing all they can to keep this hurtful statue in place because the cries of black Tennesseans and their allies are not enough.

But what if they were to hear from entirely different voices? What if Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs were to show they truly do understand how much pain their words and actions have caused, and speak out about the bust, encouraging Mcnally and Sexton to drop their challenge to its removal, and asking the Historical commission to vote to remove it once and for all?

It would be a healing moment for country music, our state, and their souls.

“These elected officials aren’t listening to black Tennesseans,” says Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, who has been involved with the statue issue for quite some time, and recently spoke out about it at a hearing. “They aren’t even listening to their black colleagues who have to walk by that statue every day and be reminded of what it represents. Maybe white country music stars are exactly who they need to hear from. Words of encouragement from Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs for them to do the right thing could go a long way.”

A long way indeed.

Taking a position on this controversial topic probably wouldn’t be easy for country music stars like Wallen & Combs. But very often doing the right thing isn’t.

 

Justin Kanew is the founder of the Tennessee Holler. Foller him on Twitter here.

How MNPD Responds to Drugs Versus Bombs

“I’d like to see some level of acknowledgment from Metropolitan Nashville Police Department that if it had been drugs instead of bombs that would have triggered different levels of alarm.”
 
Nashville Council Member Bob Mendes on how MNPD was tipped off about the bomber 16 months ago but did nothing.

PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts, and wherever else you like to listen.

 

Evacuation Before Nashville Bombing

“IT’S LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A MOVIE”

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has released Officer Sipos’ BODY CAM footage of the moment the Nashville Bombing occurred. They demonstrated heroic courage and calm under pressure.

 

KANEW: “TENNESSEE REPUBLICANS ARE TURNING THEIR BACKS ON DEMOCRACY”

TENNESSEE REPUBLICANS ARE TURNING THEIR BACKS ON DEMOCRACY

On November 3rd Donald Trump lost the presidential election. I know it’s hard for some people to hear that, but that’s all the more reason it needs to be said. It was close in some key swing states, but President-Elect Joe Biden is now up by tens of thousands of votes even in those states, and Republican secretaries of state across the country are telling us there is zero real evidence of widespread fraud. 

Obviously that hasn’t stopped President Trump from refusing to accept defeat. He told us he would only accept the outcome if he won before the election, and he has followed through. He now tweets incessantly, day after day about how he has been cheated – pointing to vote counts being changed, dead people voting, Republican observers not being allowed into the counting rooms… all of which have been debunked one by one by one. Trump is tweeting about fraud publicly while his lawyers admit in court, under oath, that they are not actually saying any such fraud took place.

Simply put, there is no evidence of widespread fraud. He is lying. There is no debating that. 

What is up for debate is why. Is it simply so he can drag this out as long as possible to give himself more time to milk money from his supporters? Money which he claims is going to help him fight the lawsuits he keeps losing, but which the fine print tells us he is stuffing into his own pockets

Or does he really think he can take this all the way to the end and overturn this election with the help of Republican-held state legislatures, who would have to turn their backs on democracy, throw out the results of the election in their states, and assign their electors to him without any justification for doing so?

One would hope he knows the latter is an impossibility, since it would essentially mean the end of The American Experiment.

One would hope he would understand that even Republicans in his party would deem that to be a bridge too far.

But would they? If they’re anything like the Republicans in Tennessee, perhaps not. 

So far here in Tennessee, the only prominent Republicans who have been willing to acknowledge that Joe Biden is president-elect are ex-Senators Bob Corker and Bill Frist. Senator Lamar Alexander has said nothing. Governor Lee has expressed his support for Trump’s efforts, as have Senator Marsha Blackburn, senator-elect Bill Hagerty, and both chambers of the Tennessee supermajority legislature. The Tennessee Republican delegation of congressmen have also gone right along with the charade, including Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who told a news network “what we’re seeing is fraud,” but when pressed for specifics pointed to Nevada – where the 3000 ballots in question had already turned out to be mostly military families who had been transferred.

Is this what it has come to, Republicans? One can only imagine the outrage they would be demonstrating had Hillary Clinton refused to concede, especially if she had a 5 million vote deficit in the popular vote rather than the 3 million advantage she ended up with (in fact, they did rip her viciously for even just having questions in the aftermath of 2016).

Or worse yet, imagine their reaction if Obama were doing any of this. 

Perhaps they think they’re just humoring Trump, and that at the end of the day this will have no lasting impact after he inevitably leaves the White House. But that’s shortsighted. Tennessee Republicans had a chance to stand up, finally show some leadership and backbone, and say enough is enough. Instead, they signed up to join this circus and help Trump trash our election process, a favor to our anti-Democracy enemies that ultimately means Trump’s loyal following of millions of Americans will now forever believe this was a rigged election. 

Nobody knows what lasting impact that will have in the days, weeks, and years to come, but what we do know is Tennessee Republicans have shown us they put their loyalty to Trump and their own self-preservation ahead of their commitment to the democratic process that undergirds the very notion of America, and that in itself is the opposite of patriotism.

Free and fair elections, respecting the will of the people, is what makes us who we are as a country. Republicans love to invoke the Founding Fathers when convenient, but any objective reading of their intentions makes it clear they set up our constitution to guard against efforts to drag us back towards the authoritarianism our country was established in opposition to, the tyranny they fought and bled to keep us away from in favor of the freedom to elect our own leaders and center the people’s voice. A freedom many brave Americans have since died to preserve.

This is a dark path we’re heading down, one few would have believed possible even just a few short years ago. This has already become a black eye on our nation’s history, and the further down this road we go, the bigger the stain will be on the reputations of this crop of Tennessee Republicans – a stain which will not soon come off.

Justin Kanew is the Founder of the Tennessee Holler

TORREY HARRIS, MEMPHIS TN House Candidate

MEMPHIS TN House candidate Torrey Harris talks about running against ex-Democrat John Deberry and being an openly gay candidate in Tennessee.

www.TorreyHarris.com

PODCAST VERSION available on Apple Podcasts, and wherever else you like to listen.

KANEW TO WILLIAMSON COUNTY: CANCEL CASADA

“If values matter, if we’re trying to teach our kids to do the right thing, we need to #CancelCasada like his own Republican caucus did.”

Watch The Holler’s Justin Kanew help WILLIAMSON COUNTY remember why ex-speaker Glen Casada had to resign in shame.

Here’s his op-ed in the Tennessean.

TN Senate Candidate GLENN SCRUGGS

Assistant Police Chief Glenn Scruggs on his opponent Senator Gardenhire’s “FRIED CHICKEN” comments and more.

PODCAST

FRANKLIN REQUIRES PERMITS TO PROTEST

In a deeply disappointing decision Franklin just voted to require permits to protest. All protests in Franklin have been peaceful.

The resistance was bipartisan. Mayor Ken Moore broke the 4-4 tie.

OP-ED: GOP REP. MIKE SPARKS Distorts MLK’s Words to Justify A Racist, Oppressive Agenda

Mike Sparks is facing an extremely difficult election this cycle.  Brandon Thomas is a young, black man with a progressive platform and widespread support, particularly among young people. He’s energetic and has put in the work to make personal connections with a huge swath of the district’s electorate.

Sparks, by contrast, has spent much of his time defending the bust of KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forest in the state’s capital and claiming to the Tennessee Holler that he doesn’t know why the civil war was fought.

He even took some time out of this busy schedule to pen an Op-Ed for the Murfreesboro Voice in defense of Trump loving Ex-Democrat John DeBerry.

In it, he claims that DeBerry is some kind of victim for having been ousted from the Democratic ticket over his litany of absurd statements and positions. This is, of course, absurd, as the Democratic Party is a political organization with every right to decide not to lend its apparatus to a candidate who does not fit with their values. Unlike Sparks’ Republican Party, which seems to jump frantically from one ideology to another in pursuit of power, the Democrats seem to have at least some standards.

I don’t find myself overly disturbed by Sparks’ defense of DeBerry, however. This is run-of-the-mill culture war nonsense that Republicans always gin up a month or so before an election to drive out their base. It’s ridiculous, but it comes with the territory. I do take issue with Sparks’ appropriation of the language of resistance, which he does so brazenly that I can only assume that he is as ignorant of its context as he is of our own state’s Confederate history.

The absurdity begins as he mentions the iconic anti-fascist poem by German pastor Martin Niemoller, “First They Came…” Sparks doesn’t actually quote any lines from the poem, likely because the very first line of the poem’s most famous form is “first they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a socialist.”

This isn’t a poem about a wealthy, longtime state representative being removed from his party for supporting a fascist president. It’s about the ways in which authoritarian governments divide their population and attack those in the political, religious, and racial minorities while assuring all others that they’re safe as part of the majority.

It’s a critique of the “Us versus Them” mentality.

Does this sound familiar? One example might be an authoritarian president building a campaign on the claim that a large portion of Mexican immigrants are dangerous criminals, or banning a religious minority from entering the country.

Another example could be a clownish Governor and entrenched supermajority passing laws that target protestors and strip them of their voting rights for the crime of daring to speak up in defense of black life. I wonder what Mike Sparks would have to say about events like that?

It’s the excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is the most egregious, however. Unlike the poem, of which one could give Sparks the benefit of assuming ignorance, he adamantly claims to have read this document, and yet his understanding of it seems to be on the level of someone who skimmed Dr. King’s work for quotes that could be construed to agree with him.

He goes with the oft-quoted warning that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is a remarkably convenient line for Sparks, and is so removed from its context as to be nearly meaningless. However, to find this line, he was forced to sift through a mountain of criticism for laws that look identical to the anti-protest bill that he just voted for!

For an obvious example, Dr. King says that “there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

This speaks to a greater tendency among the right to quote Dr. King while categorically refusing his key claim that all actions must be viewed within the context which has given rise to them. This is what Dr. King meant when he said that “riots are the language of the unheard,” and it is absolutely central to his brilliant understanding of opposition to hierarchy and oppression.

While Brandon Thomas travels the district meeting constituents and accepting endorsements from workers unions and activist groups, Mike Sparks spends his time defending the racist authoritarians of the past like Nathan Bedford Forest, and the racist authoritarians of today like Donald Trump.

He is a voice for the powerful against the powerless, an advocate for order at the expense of justice.

He is what Dr. King would call “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”

No man who votes to protect a bust honoring a KKK Grand Wizard or strip voting rights from peaceful protestors for “camping” should be using the words of Dr. King or Pastor Niemoller. We cannot allow the defenders of power and authoritarianism to co-opt the language of true, profound resistance to such horrors.

We should learn from our history, so that men like Mike Sparks aren’t able to distort it for their own agenda.

 

Brendon Donoho is a student at MTSU, president of MTSU Young Democratic Socialists of America, and a resident of Rutherford County