TN Republicans Want To Cancel Historical Commission For Canceling First KKK Grand Wizard
If there is anything conservatives hate, it is cancel culture. And it is not because they are weird bigots who want everything to stay the exact same forever and fear anything that threatens the social hierarchy they are most comfortable with. It is because they are concerned for the welfare of those poor unfortunate souls who might innocently say or do something they didn't realize was racist or sexist and be banished from polite society, lose their jobs, or face other repercussions.
Perhaps even repercussions like losing their spot on the Tennessee historical commission!
Well, not that, because that is what Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want to do to all of the current members of the historical commission, on account of how they voted to remove a bust of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest from the state capitol.
Senator Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald Republican, sponsored the bill. It would replace all of the members of the 29 person commission with 12 new members.
Currently, 24 of the commissioners are appointed by the governor of the state. Sen. Hensley's bill would reduce the total number of members to 12. The governor, Lt. Governor and state speaker of the house would each choose four members.
While not specifically mentioning the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the meeting, members made references to decisions the historical commission has recently made.
As anyone who has paid any attention to the Confederate statue drama or who has seen or read Forrest Gump is aware, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest was the very first Grand Wizard of the KKK. He was also a slave trader and plantation owner prior to the Civil War, and during the Civil War led a racially motivated massacre against Union soldiers (Confederates were angry over the Union's use of Black soldiers) that was so brutal it is frequently cited as a contributing factor to the North eventually winning the war due to Union soldiers wanting revenge. It is entirely unclear what redeeming qualities anyone who is not a virulent racist would see in Forrest. It's not just that he owned slaves or fought in the Civil War. The man's entire life was exclusively about being extremely racist and horrible to Black people.
Janice Bowling, one of the Tennessee state senators who voted to decommission the commission, did not share with the class any of Forrest's redeeming qualities either, in her defense of the bust:
"In our culture today it seems there is a desire to cancel history, cancel culture, cancel narratives that are just based on fact. I think that that's a dangerous precedent," said Tullahoma Republican Senator Janice Bowling.
What's the narrative, Janice? What facts are we missing here, with regard to Nathaniel Bedford Forrest? Why should he be honored? What purpose does that serve? Is it just because he was a person who lived in Tennessee and was relatively famous? Because there are a lot of famous people from a lot of different places and they don't all have statues. George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, was from Rhode Island, and I assure you there are no statues of him there. In fact, I never even heard that he was from Rhode Island until I was an adult, I assume because it was not considered a point of pride for anyone. No one goes around saying, "Eh, sure he was a Nazi ... but he was a Nazi from Providence."
Also, as far as I know, Cincinnati, Ohio, does not have a bust of Charles Manson anywhere.
It is very possible to remember that Nathaniel Bedford Forrest existed and to learn about all of the horrendous things he did without there being a bust of him at the Tennessee statehouse. We have books! We have the internet! No one is learning history from statues. But it's not about "history," it's about what is and is not socially acceptable, and some people are apparently a little scared of a world where it is socially unacceptable to have a bust of a famous racist in one's statehouse.
Tennessee Republicans can go and "cancel" this historical commission and the next historical commission, and they can keep trying to hold on to their precious busts of notorious historical racists as long as they can. But it's not going to do what they think it's going to do. People aren't going to say, "Well, I guess racism can't be too unacceptable if Nathaniel Bedford Forrest has himself a bust up at the statehouse," they are just going to keep asking why anyone would want a bust of a person who is literally famous only for being super racist in their statehouse in the first place.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse