Memphis Unfriends Nathan Bedford Forrest

Not wanting to be left out of the furor about statues and other monuments honoring Confederate heroes, the Tennessee legislature in 2016 passed the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, requiring a two-thirds majority of the Tennessee Historical Commission to “rename, remove, or relocate any public statue, monument, or memorial.” This would include the removal of statues honoring those who committed treason in their effort to preserve slavery.

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s other business

The Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument, a statue in Forrest Park of Nathan Bedford Forrest mounted on a horse, celebrated a Confederate cavalry leader, best known for the “Fort Pillow Massacre” of captured Union – mostly black – troops. After the War, he became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Memphis is a blue dot on the deep red map of Tennessee. In 2013, the City Council had voted to change the name of Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park. (They also renamed Confederate Park to Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park.) After the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, became law, they sold the parks to a non-profit organization, who then removed the statues of Forrest and Jefferson Davis.

As if to prove there is nothing too petty for a Republican-controlled body, the Tennessee legislature voted to rescind its previous authorization of $250,000 granted to the city of Memphis for its bicentennial celebration in 2019.

When Antonio Parkinson, a representative from Memphis – a Democrat and African-American – called the vote vile and racist, he was cut off by boos from fellow lawmakers.

Searching for Grit in Little Rock

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross traveled by train from Dardanelle to Fort Smith, on the western border of Arkansas. She was searching for a man with grit, someone to help her track down Tom Chaney, the lowlife who had robbed and murdered her father. She hired Rueben Cogburn, a deputy U.S. marshal known as “Rooster.” A Texas Ranger is also looking for the killer, for an unrelated murder in Texas. He joins up with them and they head off into the “Indian Territory” of what is now Oklahoma.

Charles Portis’s novel, True Grit, was published in 1968. To celebrate its fifty-year anniversary, the Oxford American magazine is hosting a celebration in Little Rock, Portis’s hometown. The weekend event includes a screening on Friday of the1969 film starring John Wayne, in his only Oscar-winning performance, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby and Robert Duvall. The 2010 Coen Brothers version of True Grit, featuring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld, will be shown the next day. The weekend event includes speakers Roy Blount Jr. and Calvin Trillin and entertainment by Iris DeMent. (Garrison Keillor was originally scheduled to be the featured speaker, but he was quietly dropped from the agenda.)

Little Rock is also home to the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. The Clinton Presidential Library sits on the bank of the Arkansas River, at the end of President Clinton Avenue.

Central High School, made famous by the “Little Rock Nine,” who with the help of the 101st Airborne, integrated the school in 1957, is now a National Historic Site.

Now that’s some true grit.

Beginning of Trump’s End?

Veteran reporter Adam Davidson sees similarities with the Iraq invasion, the 2008 financial meltdown and the Trump presidency. The New Yorker published this just before the Sean Hannity news.

“I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations.”

Read the whole thing here.


Our Local Press Democrat Beat the New York Times

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat won a Pulitzer Prize this week for its “lucid and tenacious coverage of historic wildfires that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, expertly utilizing an array of tools, including photography, video and social media platforms, to bring clarity to its readers — in real time and in subsequent in-depth reporting.” The Press Democrat beat out the other nominees, the Houston Chronicle and the New York Times. The fire destroyed more than five thousand homes and businesses, taking away a third of Santa Rosa’s tax base. (Kohl’s just re-opened last week.)

Our local newspaper has come a long way since Ernest Finley merged his Evening Press with the Sonoma Democrat in 1897. Both newspapers had been rabid “states rights” advocates and supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Finley purchased the Santa Rosa Republican in 1948. By that time, “Democrat” and “Republican” had each done a 180-degree political change since Civil War days.

The Finley family sold the newspaper to the New York Times Company in 1985. The Times sold it in 2012 to Halifax Media, publisher of local shopper newspapers, mostly in the Southeast. Less than a year later, a group of local movers and shakers formed Sonoma Media Investments and bought the paper from Halifax. (One of the investors is Jeannie Schulz, widow of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.)

The paper is apparently thriving as an independent operation in a very difficult environment for print media. The Pulitzer award should make the owners happy and maybe even increase readership.

Annie Wells, a photographer for the Press Democrat, won a Pulitzer in 1997 for her photo of the dramatic rescue of a young woman from a flooded creek by a Santa Rosa fireman.

Before There Was a Jurassic Park

Driving through the desert on Interstate 10 between Palm Springs and the Los Angeles megalopolis, you’ll be traveling through dinosaur country.

In 1958, after a career as a sculptor and portrait artist at Knott’s Berry Farm, Claude Bell moved to his 62 acres in Cabazon, a dot on the map adjacent to the new freeway. There he opened his Wheel Inn restaurant. To persuade motorists to exit the interstate, Bell began construction on “Dinny,” 45-foot high sprayed concrete on metal-frame, dinosaur. “The first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building,” he boasted. A second beast, a tyrannosaur named “Rex,” was erected a few years later.

The food and the giant sculptures gained Bell’s roadside dining spot a listing in Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood, an indispensable eating guide for intrepid travelers. The Wheel Inn and its creatures have been featured in music videos and most famously, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Claude Bell died in 1988, at the age of 91. His family sold the property a few years later to a development partnership. The new owners obtained approvals for “a children’s science and museum exhibit,” including restaurants, a museum, and gift shop, and a 60-room motel. The developers built dozens more prehistoric creatures and promote their “Cabazon Dinosaurs” attraction, but don’t mention that it is a “Young Earth Creationist” museum. “Dinny” now houses a gift shop selling creationist souvenirs.

More recently, Cabazon became the home of “Desert Hills Premium Outlets.” The restaurant closed in 2013.

MLK and Penzey’s

Penzey’s began in 1957 as a husband-wife coffee and spice shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Twenty-nine years later, William and Ruth Ann Penzey’s son, William, Jr. began the company’s mail-order business. The company has grown and today has retail stores throughout the country.

Penzey’s Spices recognized the fifty-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s murder by being closed. Here is text of e-mail Bill, Jr. sent to their customers.

In the early evening of April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was taken from us by the forces of racism. For Penzeys, April 4, 2018 just doesn’t seem like a day for business as normal, so we are giving our people a paid day off and closing our stores and call center for the day. I apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause our customers, but in a time where the same forces that took Dr. King have re-emerged to take control of the highest offices in our country, this just does not seem like the year to look the other way.

At the heart of cooking is the belief that when we care about others the world becomes a better place, that through kindness and compassion better futures can be set in motion. Even if this new wave of racism stopped today there would still be a great deal of healing to be done and Cooks would once again be the ones to do it. As a Cook, your kindness and compassion really are the glue keeping this world together. Right now our country and the world needs what you do more than it has in a long time.

All forms of hate are destructive, but there is something particularly soul-crushing about the hate that is racism. That it should be surging once again in the 21st century 50 years after Doctor Martin Luther King’s murder is tough to take. If there’s any silver lining to today’s racism, it’s that those with power and privilege who choose to fan the flames of racism know they can no longer do it openly. In King’s time it was those fighting racism that needed to be ever vigilant. These days, at least for now, it’s those promoting racism that realize their need for discretion because they know that so many would see their views as monstrous, especially the young.

Today as we remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, with how incredibly sad that day was, there will be the urge to say that this is just about Memphis and just about 50 years ago. Please resist that urge. With the open racism that has taken hold of the modern Republican Party, this anniversary is very much about today, and very much about all our back yards. Especially ours.

At Penzeys our locations straddle both Milwaukee and Waukesha counties here in Wisconsin. Milwaukee is a wonderfully rich in diversity community. Waukesha is where most all the families who felt the need to flee that diversity ended up. Both communities are full of kind, decent people, but Waukesha still has a smaller contingent crossing all classes that are very much there for the racism. Mostly it’s kept out of sight, but at times you catch glimpses and it’s never pleasant to see.

So many have worked so hard in Waukesha to move things forward, and they are making progress every day, but there are still those fighting to keep out diversity in any way they can. A few months back, Memphis brilliantly orchestrated the removal of two confederate war statues from city parks. The next night our family attended a Waukesha school event where we witnessed the extended family who sat down in front of us share their disgust at the statues’ removal. They kept their voices low, but their anger radiated. I just don’t get how people with so much privilege can see goodness in being so hurtful to those facing so many obstacles. Change needs to come now.

Ever since our Cooking Trumps Racism email and Facebook post after the presidential election, I’ve received tens of thousands of emails from people sharing their experiences and thoughts on racism. Somewhere in reading those letters it occurred to me that maybe there’s a quicker way forward on racism. Up until now it’s only been those on the receiving end of racism that end up having to pay its considerable costs. As long as those doing the racism pay no price it’s going to continue. What if instead of turning a blind eye to those doing racism we took a conservative approach and asked those responsible to pay the costs of their actions?

One thing I’ve noticed about Cooks over the years that I think plays into why they have more positive outcomes in their lives, is that Cooks tend to be optimists. As a Cook myself, I look at the recent student-led activism in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and see in the leadership of this new generation such hope. Not just for pragmatic gun control, but for the environment and for all forms of discrimination as well. This whole not accepting Fox’s apology until they take responsibility for what they’ve done seems to be a blending of the best of both the liberal and conservative traditions. In these young people I see so much hope for the future.

And once again, sorry to everyone who takes time out of their day to visit one of our stores or calls our call center only to find we are closed. What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has meant to all that is good about this country is too much to not try to, in some way, show respect. Please, if you can today and in the coming days, give thought to Dr. King and all those who sacrificed so much to move equality forward in America. They paid so much to make this country great. Now is no time to slide back off the Mountaintop. Now is the time to reach for the summit.