Black lawmakers in Tennessee’s House of Representatives were incensed late last week when they learned they had been duped into voting for a resolution honoring the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to Nashville Patch and The Tennessean, Rep. Mike Sparks, a Republican in the Tennessee Legislature’s lower chamber, sponsored a bill to recognize Nathan Bedford Forrest (pdf) earlier this year. Aside from being a slave trader and a general in the Confederate army, famous for slaughtering surrendering black Union soldiers, Forrest is best-known for his early work with a little local social club called the Ku Klux Klan. When the black members of the House read the bill, they responded with a collective “Awww hell nah,”
and the resolution was “tabled for summer study”—which is the Tennessee Legislature’s nice way of killing a bill.
Instead of letting it go (because if everyone could listen to reason and let stuff go, then racists would cease to exist), Sparks instead introduced another bill—this one honoring a Louisiana pastor. The measure was bundled with a few other honors celebrating a cheerleading team and a high school salutatorian and passed 94-0. Sounds legit, right?
Except Sparks’ second bill contained all the language of the first bill.
“He pulled a fast one,” said Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar), an African American. “I don’t think I owe any recognition to Mr. Forrest at all. If I could take my vote back, I would.”
But it was too late. Members of the House Black Caucus were upset because Republicans had pulled a fast one on them. In response, Sparks said he was sorry for the confusion.
“I passed this not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings. Not trying to use any trickery or any kind of problems, but many of y’all know I have a passion for history like many of y’all do,” Sparks said. “I apologize to members of the Black Caucus.”
Sparks is a well-known advocate of Confederate history, and sometimes organizes events to honor Confederate Civil War “heroes.” When the black lawmakers argued about his duplicitous inclusion of the KKK leader hidden in the second resolution, Sparks responded: “Well, whose fault is that?
“If anybody wants to debate this issue, let’s go. Bring 1,000 of them, and I’ll debate them by myself,” Sparks said of his decision to honor the grand wizard. “I have something on my side that they don’t have on their side: I’ve got truth.”
Both bills cite Forrest’s slave trading and his involvement with the Klan, but neither mention the Fort Pillow Massacre, when Forrest’s men captured a Tennessee fort from 600 Union soldiers, half of whom were black. Even after the soldiers surrendered, Forrest’s troops slaughtered all but 65 of the former slaves who had joined the Union forces, while his field commander bragged about the lesson they had taught the “mongrel garrison.”
Resolutions passed by the Tennessee House are not signed by the governor and cannot be vetoed.