Selma Lives!

Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones, Rep. Gloria Johnson People hold their hands up as they exit the House Chamber doors at the Tennessee State Capitol Building, in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. April 3, 2023. Nicole Hester/USA Today Network via REUTERS.

Bull Connor was resurrected this week. It had been years since his name had crossed my mind, but after the events in the Tennessee house, he came back uninvited into my consciousness. He was also mentioned by cable news commentators, along with the images of the fire hoses being used against civil rights demonstrators. It was telling that it took images of 60 years ago to match what was happening in Nashville.

I spent 10 years in Memphis. The district that just got “unrepresented” was not one I lived in, but if I lived there now, it would be familiar to me. The 86th legislative district was the one that Justin Pearson represented, and now has no representation in the Tennessee house. That district was gerrymandered to include the industrial lands next to the Mississippi River, downtown Memphis, and a swath of land along the river and up into a county adjacent to Shelby County (home to Memphis). My old workplace along the Loosahatchie River is currently without representation.

As I watched cable news coverage, they were in split-screen mode. Those who were pontificating were on one side, while images of the speakers in the Tennessee Assembly were shown on the other. The sound was off in that chamber, but it was apparent through the shaking of fists, and the clenched jaws of the speakers, raw hatred was being expressed. Raw hatred against three individuals who dared to stand up and challenge the one-sided nature of legislative discussion after the murders in the Nashville church-based school. In the end, the two black males were on the losing end of the vote, and their expulsion from the chamber was completed. The white woman who had joined the two in violating the decorum of the house chamber? She received just enough votes to avoid being expelled as well. So the final score was one white woman allowed to stay, two young black males sent packing. As the remaining female legislator said, the result was probably related to the color of her skin.

My knowledge of Tennessee politics ended nearly 40 years ago when I moved away. I was there when the newly elected governor of Tennessee took over earlier than anticipated (three days prior to the scheduled inauguration day), in order to forestall then-governor Ray Blanton from selling any more pardons. Fortunately, he was held accountable for some of his multitude of crimes, although not for pardon sales. Yes, he was a Democratic party member, but I was very glad to see the Republican Lamar Alexander take over. Back then the crime and grift was equal opportunity, and all politicians were suspect regardless of party affiliation. Now, however, it does seem like one party is inclined to use their power for one purpose only – to maintain said power.

White privilege is debated often. States have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny its existence, so much so that in Florida, you may not discuss in the classroom anything that could bring discomfort to the youth of that state (those who just happen to be white). The party that decries cancel culture, is guilty of cancelling anything that presents a challenge to the lily pure image being presented by the dominant class. Snowflakes cannot stand any warmth of reality, else they melt away.

I am old enough to remember seeing the fire hoses used against demonstrators. I felt awful that a group of people had to put up with such vile hatred in order to gain a semblance of citizenship. At the age of 8, I was only capable of thinking that could not happen in the state of Nebraska, where I lived. I had to be older to learn that the same feelings existed even in my state, though they were expressed with less overt violence. Somehow I managed to live through learning of the imperfections of our nation. Still I retained the belief that things were getting better, and we would soon embody the post-racial world Dr. King discussed. But events like those in Nashville show how far away we are from truly becoming a post-racial society. They replace the images of Barack Obama with those of Bull Connor, letting us know we are drifting back to a world we believed we had left behind. Who will be the voices we hear in the 2020’s that will match that of Dr. King? If we continue to follow the racism as expressed in the Tennessee Assembly, it may be a long time before we ever can accept our ongoing participation in the American sin. There is a call for reparations now. Yeah, let’s go throw money at the problem. Seems like that is our answer to everything. Let me say now, reparations without repairing the schism in our hearts will not bring about true equality. We now see so many who do not want equality, who will not accept the founding principles of our nation. And they are the ones who are gaming the system to ensure their continued occupation in the lead coach. Unfortunately, if we follow their lead, it will be towards national derailment and ultimate ruin.    

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