House panel snubs joint honoring of black legislator, Nathan Bedford Forrest

The House State Government Committee has scuttled a resolution by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, that would have jointly honored Sampson Keeble, Tennessee’s first African-American state legislator, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who was once a slave trader.

At the Tuesday committee meeting, Sparks offered an amendment – approved on voice vote – that deleted the references to Forrest and left only the language praising Keeble, who, like Sparks, was from Rutherford County. The initial resolution notes that busts of both Forrest and Keeble are located “merely 20 steps” apart in the Tennessee state Capitol building.

But Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, said he and other members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators were insulted by HJR92’s original version tying together two men with starkly different backgrounds – even though Sparks met with caucus members and decided to delete Forrest.

“I don’t think bringing up slave owners is going to help racial harmony,” said Shaw.

The initial linkage, Shaw said, so tainted the process that he could not support the measure even with the amendment. He urged Sparks to drop HJR92 completely and return next year with a “clean resolution” that covers only Keeble at the outset.

No member of the panel spoke in favor of the resolution. There was a round of discussion over how to deal with it – Committee Chairman Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, suggesting at one point that the measure just be voted down outright because of the “shadow” left by the original version – but members ultimately settled on a voice vote to send the measure to “summer study.”

Shaw said he would work with Sparks to draft a resolution on Keeble next year.

Sparks said he was inspired to draft the resolution by a meeting with about 200 young people – none of whom had ever heard of Keeble – during a discussion over Middle Tennessee State University’s move to change the name of a campus building now named after Forrest.

He said the idea was to promote an awareness of history, though “some of it is not all that good; some of it’s a little checkered.” After the vote, Sparks told the panel, “I think it’s pretty obvious people follow the political correctness.”

Note: Nashville Scene blogger Betsy Phillips has some critical commentary on the original version HERE.

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