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