Yeah, That Picture’s Real: Black Tennessee Mayor Proclaims April ‘Confederate History Month’
Last week, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves proclaimed April "Confederate Heritage Month,” but a grown man named “Tate” is capable of anything. I’m more concerned that Livingston, Tennessee, Mayor Curtis Hayes has also signed a proclamation declaring April “Confederate History Month." Curtis Hayes is Black. The treasonous Confederacy was overtly anti-Black.
White supremacist wannabe Vice President Alexander Stephens stated in his infamous Cornerstone Speech that the ideas within the US Constitution were “fundamentally wrong” because “they rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.”
STEPHENS: Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
Yeah, Stephens was one evil son of a bitch, but he didn’t mince words. You can argue that America’s racial failings were the result of flawed men straying from honorable intentions. However, the Confederacy was always intended to exist and thrive as an apartheid slave state.
Yet here’s Curtis Hayes, a Black man in the age of Ketanji Brown Jackson, using his elected authority to promote the Lost Cause.
But maybe Hayes himself isn’t a lost cause. The Overton County News article announcing “Confederate History Month” features an image of Hayes surrounded by "Dukes of Hazzard" extras who are described as members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It looks like a hostage photo.
The proclamation urges "all citizens to avail themselves of the opportunities to increase their knowledge of this important era of Tennessee’s history.” Of course, Tennessee banned the teaching of critical race theory last May, so it’s unclear residents are supposed to learn more about the glorious period when white Tennesseans fought a war so they could own or at least aspire to own Black Tennesseans.
The Tennessee General Assembly’s CRT ban specifically prohibits "schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race."
The Confederacy was fundamentally racist and it was still the United States no matter how hard its leaders tried to establish a white supremacist dystopia.
If you are interested in real history, Tennessee was in fact the last state to formally secede. It was a divided state during the war, with eastern Tennessee remaining mostly anti-treason. Dolly Parton was born in Sevier County, which voted 1,528 to 60 against secession. Maybe there’s something in the water.
However, there was a great deal of traitor activity in Livingston. In April 1865, Captain John Francis led a company of Confederate terrorists that made a raid on Livingston and burned the county courthouse.
US authorities had collected information about the pro-Confederate activities of many local residents and this material was stored in the courthouse, awaiting use in trails. By destroying the courthouse and the evidence against them these residents were saved from being placed on trial.
Such honorable people ... or craven cowards desperate to avoid the consequences of their actions. It’s not hard to guess how Tennessee schools tell this story.
Here’s how the Tennessee Civil War Trails site describes native son and traitor Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first grand dragon of the Klu Klux Klan:
Nathan Bedford Forrest, the "wizard of the saddle," was one of the finest Confederate cavalry commanders and foremost military figures produced by the state of Tennessee. He was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, on July 13, 1821. Despite only six months of formal education, Forrest rose from semi-subsistence to planter status, acquiring substantial property and wealth, largely through the slave trade.
Forrest’s life was quite the rags to riches story: He became rich while the enslaved Black people who built his wealth remained in rags.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans insist that it "neither embraces, nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial and religious bigotry, and further, condemns the misuse of its sacred symbols and flags in the conduct of same.” If that’s true, the white supremacists they openly celebrate wouldn’t approve of the direction their organization has taken.
Curtis Hayes, who’s not affiliated with any specific political party, has served as Livingston’s mayor since 2006. I have no idea why he signed his name to that offensive proclamation.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."