Celebrating Gen. Forrest, and Playing Drunken Monopoly, Oh, the People of Tennessee

Sometimes state Rep. Mike Sparks just doesn’t know when to quit.

The Smyrna Republican recently caught the ire of fellow House members at the State Capitol when they found out he slipped a resolution through the body recognizing the writings of a Nathan Bedford Forrest apologist. The irritation wasn’t confined to members of the Black Caucus, who said Sparks betrayed their trust and sneaked the measure through on the House’s consent calendar, which is supposed to be used only for non-controversial and non-substantive items. Several other legislators of lighter hue were peeved as well.

It all started when Sparks decided to sponsor a separate resolution this session of the General Assembly recognizing the rich history of Tennessee, including the accomplishments of Sampson Keeble, of Smyrna, who became the first black person elected to the Legislature after the Civil War during Reconstruction, and the purported redemption of Forrest, the Confederate general who confounded Union generals and became a Southern hero but who also traded slaves, led the massacre at Fort Pillow and was generally a pretty rough character before supposedly finding God and making amends with black folks toward the end of his life.

Sparks tried to the get the Black Caucus to support the resolution, but they wouldn’t go for it. And even when he tried to amend the resolution to honor only Keeble, a House committee sent it to what’s called “summer study,” the resting place for dead legislation.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, a black Democratic legislator from Bolivar, was “highly insulted” by Sparks placing Keeble and Forrest in the same resolution in the beginning. And Rep. Bob Ramsey, a white Republican legislator from Maryville, explained to Sparks the measure had a “shadow” on it because of its connection to Forrest and couldn’t move forward.

So what did Sparks do?

Instead of accepting defeat, he pieced together a new resolution honoring a Lake Charles, La., pastor named Shane Kastler, who wrote a biography, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption. It pulls a large chunk from the initial resolution about the bad side of Forrest, including his election as first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but then says he became a Christian later in life, advocated for black civil rights, disavowed the KKK and had a large number of black people attend his funeral.

For those who don’t know how the House works, the body will have a long list of memorializing and recognition resolutions on a consent calendar, which it approves at the start of its sessions each week. Members will look over the list and if nothing sticks out, they’ll vote for it. They can request that items be pulled for consideration on the regular calendar. But because nobody recognized Kastler’s name, they let it slide on through with a unanimous vote April 13.

Not until somebody tipped off a news reporter did anybody take note.

With the entire Black Caucus pissed off and the rest of the House looking like fools, Sparks still can’t understand why he’s so misunderstood.

“What other leader in the state of Tennessee had 3,000 African Americans attend his funeral?” Sparks said, referring to reports on Forrest’s death. “So he had to have a story of redemption. I’m not trying to offend anybody. It’s just honoring the author who told the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, his religious conversion and becoming a Christian and advocating for African Americans.”

He’s just trying to make sure nobody forgets history or tries to whitewash it.

As if they could.

Forrest and Keeble both have busts in the State Capitol, and state legislators walk past them every day they go into the House chamber.

The main difference between the two, of course, is that Forrest, one of the biggest slave traders in Memphis before the war, could have owned or sold Keeble at some point. While that’s not likely, he certainly made a lot of money dealing in human flesh. But hey, a man’s got to make a living somehow, right? And it was 150-plus years ago, which must make it right.

It must be noted that the legislators from Memphis already have to deal with a statue of the Civil War general there, and while they’re driving to Nashville each week they go past the signs for Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, no doubt reminding them of Tennessee’s heritage.

So they have to look at Forrest in Memphis, along I-40 and then in the State Capitol. And if they were to visit MTSU, they’d see his name on Forrest Hall, the ROTC building. (Incidentally, the brouhaha over renaming that building rests with the State Historical Commission and remains unresolved after an MTSU panel recommended a name change in 2016.)

It’s little wonder Black Caucus members took Sparks to task. They asked him to drop the deal on Forrest and Keeble, and instead of taking their advice, he sneaked it through and they unwittingly voted for it. That’s enough to make anyone mad.

They’ll never accept the story of Forrest’s redemption, which they don’t believe, and they’re sick of having it shoved down their throats. The sooner people take a look at it from that perspective the better off we’ll all be.

More Legislative Crap
A House education committee recently killed a piece of legislation allowing students to pay in-state tuition to go to state colleges and universities if they had come to Tennessee illegally as minors, along with their parents. These are young people who grew up in Tennessee schools, graduating from high schools, many of them earning salutatorian and valedictorian honors.

Unfortunately, they don’t have blond hair and blue eyes. They’re Hispanic, which in some quarters is a strike against them. And with President Donald Trump in office, the failure to hold legal papers could mean they’re out.

Yet these young people, most of whom have lived in Tennessee for 15 to 20 years and done nothing wrong except be brought here illegally by their parents, are allowed to enroll in the state’s colleges and universities but only by paying out-of-state tuition. That more or less means they can’t enroll unless they have a rich uncle who can send them $20,000–$40,000 a year, because out-of-state costs are double to triple that of in-state.

Anyway, one of our own, state Rep. Dawn White, helped nail the coffin shut on these kids when she voted against the legislation to let them pay in-state tuition.

In making her passionate plea to kill their hopes, the Murfreesboro Republican said Tennessee would become a magnet for illegal immigrant students from other states and Rutherford County, especially, would be damaged because it would have to raise property taxes to build more schools.

News flash: Rutherford County is building about a school a year already and has been for the last two decades. Without taking this matter into consideration, experts predict Rutherford’s population will hit 450,000 in 15 to 20 years.

Who is really to blame, though, for this explosion in illegal immigration? The answer is Americans. We want cheap labor and low prices. We all invited these people here so we could save a few pennies at the local big-box bakery, and now we want to belittle and berate them, pretending they’re no better than the slaves we beat over the head in 1850 for trying to run to freedom.
Giving these young people in-state tuition won’t cost the state a dime. Find a way for them to earn citizenship and let them go to school. They could probably teach our under-achieving wasteoids a thing or two.

Speaking of Getting Wasted
A Murfreesboro man was recently charged with aggravated domestic assault for allegedly beating and stabbing his wife in a fight stemming from an alcohol-laced Monopoly game. A word of advice: Never drink while playing Monopoly or cards.

When I was a kid, my favorite first cousin would sing and shout to the treetops when he was beating me at Monopoly. I sucked it up and took it. But when I was beating him, what did he do? Turned over the board and knocked all the pieces out of place. Oh well, I never really liked playing Monopoly anyway. Usually, the only reason we played was that it was raining or cold as hell outside.

When I got older and married, sometimes my wife and I would play Spades and other card games, usually during get-togethers with her family. And I couldn’t stand it when she would beat me. I finally realized it was because she could remember every card that had been played and somehow could figure out what cards everyone else had by how they played their hand. I was usually drinking beer—but not whiskey, which is a no-no—and wishing I was doing something else, like watching a ball game, and didn’t pay close enough attention.

But I still hated losing, especially since I couldn’t control the hand I was dealt. Yet, in all of that time of getting my hat handed to me by my wife, I never hit or stabbed her. Probably because no knives were handy. In fact, I was probably better off with her winning, because as long as she’s winning she’s happy, and a happy wife makes a happy life.


About the Author

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com

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