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Whittle: Forrest issue still stuck in limbo

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By DAN WHITTLE

NASHVILLE - A resolution designed to clarify Nathan Bedford Forrest's post-Civil War "redemption" from race bigotry failed to get out of a Tennessee House Committee, confirmed resolution sponsor State Rep. Michael Sparks.

"They killed my resolution last week," Sparks confirmed.

More than a century later, controversy clings to Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest ... the man credited with heroically rescuing multiple Cannon Countians from the gallows while being held captive by Union forces in the Rutherford County Courthouse.

House District 49 Rep. Sparks, a Republican whose district includes Murfreesboro's Stones River National Battlefield Cemetery and Smyrna's Sam Davis Home & Museum, voiced disappointment that his "information resolution" failed to clear the Tennessee House Government Committee.

"Tennessee history is one of our state's greatest assets, people travel to our state to tour our Civil War battlefields and museums, and those tourists bring tax revenue, which creates jobs," Sparks accounted. "The truth of our state's history is not told, it is being censored from historic figures such as Sampson Keeble, the first black state representative from Old Jefferson community, just outside Smyrna, a Republican and Confederate war veteran to Nathan Bedford Forrest.

"After the war, Gen. Forrest became a Christian and advocated for blacks, who over 3000 African Americans attend his funeral, according to historic accounts," Sparks noted. "History should be told, the good, the bad and the ugly. That was what my resolution was attempting to do. The bottom line is that the Tennessee State Legislature has fallen victim to political correctness, sadly Republicans are just as guilty."

Sparks clarified how his interest in Nathan Bedford Forrest developed: "It's ironic that I wouldn't have known the story of Forrest if it wasn't for the controversy of the MTSU Forrest Hall building and the attempt to take his name from the building," Rep. Sparks stated.

He's referencing a few protests in 2016 of some black MTSU students demanding Forrest's name be removed from Forrest Hall. At the same time, considerable support from the general public has bubbled up to keep Forrest's name intact on Forrest Hall.

The issue has since been sent to the Tennessee Historical Commission, but since no papers were filed 30 days before last February's THC meeting, it never got on the agenda.

Tennessee's (official) Historian Van West, of Murfreesboro, said he's been researching Forrest's war and post-war activities to present as many historical facts to let people draw their own conclusion about Nathan Bedford Forrest.

"I was ready for the February scheduled THC meeting, but it was not on the agenda," West verified. "The next THC meeting is scheduled for June. Papers have to be filed 30 days ahead of time for it to get on the agenda."

Sparks' proposed resolution contained facts about Forrest's post-war life in Memphis. He cites a book entitled "Nathan Bedford Forrest Redemption" as a source for his research.

Sparks acknowledges Forrest's historical polarization since his Civil War duties and post-war activities.

"The resolution specifically names General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his 'story of redemption' in Louisiana author Shane Kastler's book: "Nathan Bedford Forrest Redemption," Sparks noted. "Forrest's story is not only remarkable, but extremely fascinating as well. However, there are few figures within Tennessee history that are as polarizing as that of Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877)."

The author, an ordained Baptist pastor, has agreed to come to the Nashville Legislature to possibly testify on Gen. Forrest's behalf.

"While I'm not familiar with the specific effort at MTSU, I have spoken against several efforts at other times to remove Forrest's name from various monuments across the South," Kastler confirmed. "One thing to consider is that Forrest was first and foremost a man of his times.

'While today, we are all in agreement that slavery is deplorable, that wasn't the world Forrest lived in," added Kastler. "Mid-19th century America was unabashedly racist by today's standards, and even most abolitionists (of slavery) considered blacks to be inferior. The thing that really set Forrest apart was his open support of racial equality after the war."

Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker echoes author Kastler's findings.

"Retired Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was an outspoken advocate for the civil rights of freedmen in post-war Tennessee," Tucker confirmed on WGNS Radio's Truman Jones' talk show in Murfreesboro. "This advocacy and his popularity with the Memphis black community were resented by some of his white contemporaries who spread false rumors to detract from the general and further their own political interests."

Meanwhile, the political debate continues ...

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