Friday, September 1, 2017

On removing the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Capitol

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Nathan Bedford Forrest
Yesterday, the state Capitol Commission voted 7 to 5 against removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol (link). I think the bust of  Forrest probably should be removed from the State Capitol and moved to the State museum but I can't work up a lot of passion around the issue.  I feel those bust in the capitol should be reserved for people worthy of being revered and honored.  Forrest' early leadership roll in the KKK, his roll as a slave trader and his roll in the Battle of Fort Pillow probably make him unworthy of being honored.  Governor Haslam, Senator Lamar Alexander and various other political leaders have called for removing the bust. I can go along with those calling for the removal but it is with reservation.  I am glad there is a process in place that tempers opinions of the moment.

Despite coming down on the side of removing this bust, I think we should be concerned about the growing iconoclastic frenzy of tearing down of statues and monuments.  President Andrew Jackson owned slaves and he is responsible for the removal the Cherokee to Oklahoma.  By the time of their removal in 1838, the Cherokee had adopted the ways of white settlers. The Cherokee were not a threat to anyone. They were farmers, they became Christians, developed an alphabet, and printed a newspaper. The Trail of Tears has been roundly criticized as immoral and inhuman.  Yet, I do not want to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson from the grounds of the Sate capitol.
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Andrew Jackson

If we start removing the statues and monuments to  every former slave owner and everyone who does not conform to contemporary values, then President Trump is right when he ask if the Washington monument and Jefferson Memorial are not next. The path of tearing down statures to historical figures is a slippery slope. If we are going to undo any honor bestowed on historical figures who were imperfect, then we have a lot of tearing down to do. If the standard is that only those who conform to our current standard of values are worthy of being honored then a lot of monuments must topple and every town or county or street named Columbus or Washington or Jefferson needs a name change.

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Sam Davis, Confederate hero
While I am OK with removing the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the place of honor in the Capitol, I generally oppose the trend of tearing down historical statues across the country.  Some of the statues honoring Confederate generals however, were erected in late 1950's and early 60's as a show of contempt for federal intervention to force the South to desegregate and end Jim Crow.  This is the same time period in which several Southern states incorporated the Confederate battle flag into their state flags in a defiant stand against integration.  Some of the statues erected during that period probably should come down. 

In determining which statues should come down, I think their artistic merit, when they were erected, and who they honor should be considerations. In my view, some, but very, very few, and only after a slow deliberative process should any statures be removed.

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