Emotional haste can lay waste to our proud American history

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When reflecting on our proud American history, it is important to consider both the good and bad moments that generations of U.S. citizens have experienced since the birth of our nation. The same can be said about the individuals who are a part of that history. Passing judgement on some of the men we honor in the statues and monuments that dot the landscape of our state and nation is a slippery slope that requires extreme caution.

If we strive to accurately perform this daunting task, two key factors need to be given serious consideration. First, we must examine the entirety of the lives of the men we honor in memorials and all actions that helped define them. It is also critically important that we consider what was acceptable in society during the period of time they walked this earth.

The destruction of monuments and memorials from our past is a result of a skewed and uneducated historical perspective. What we are seeing in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville demonstrates that we as a society are being too quick to pass judgement and too willing to rewrite history to make it more acceptable by today’s standards.

Slavery is a very painful chapter in the early beginnings of our proud history. I am glad that the 19th century abolitionist movement worked to protect the words penned in our Declaration of Independence, ensuring that all men truly are created equal and that civil rights apply to everyone living in our country today. However, other cultures have also participated in this inexcusable practice, yet we are not seeing a demolition of their important history by new generations of their citizens like we see with historical items associated with the War Between the States.

Two years ago, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law that would halt destruction or removal of a historical figure or monument from government property unless the Historical Commission agreed by a two-thirds majority that the item needed to be removed. I stand in strong support of this legislation because it preserves the history of our state, both good and bad. When we allow anger to dictate actions, we let emotion play too important of a role in the decision making process. There is value in having all sides examine a hot topic or a trending issue, but we must make informed and rational decisions, not decisions based purely on emotion and misguided outrage. 

We as a society also need to consider one additional aspect of this ongoing debate — the idea of forgiveness. As it relates to Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, we are talking about a man who was recognized for his battlefield strategy and accomplishments during the Civil War. Born in Chapel Hill, Forrest is also associated as a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) by some, which is well-documented to be false. Forrest was indeed a Klan member for roughly one year; however, he quickly left the group and denounced its actions when the Klan began committing inexplicable atrocities against the citizens of this state.

A further examination of Forrest’s life and legacy would reveal a speech that he gave to the Independent Order of the Pole-Bearers — a predecessor of the NAACP — in Memphis on July 5th, 1875. During the event designed to promote voting rights for African American citizens, Forrest uttered the words, “We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers?”

This is a prime example of why it important for us to come together as a nation right now. We must also remember that emotional haste related to the destruction, dismantling, or removal of additional historical figures or monuments will lay waste to the proud narrative of our nation.