Penzey’s and Jefferson Davis and Memphis

The Tennessee legislature is digging in on its determination to punish the city of Memphis removing statues glorifying Confederates Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest. The state House of Representatives refused to reconsider taking back $250,000 allocated to the city for its bicentennial celebration. It also stiffened penalties for violations of the so-called “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.”

Republican Rep Andy Holt stated, “My only regret about this is that it’s not to the tune of millions of dollars,” adding the state has been “very generous” to Memphis. He argued taking down the statues, “is wrong because it removes history, which is what ISIS does.”

A GoFundMe account by University of Memphis graduate Brittney Block has raised more than $69,500 to offset the loss of the money.

Bill Penzey, CEO of Penzey’s Spices, who makes a habit of infuriating right-wingers, sent the following in an e-mail to customers last week:

You may have heard the news last week that the Republican-led Tennessee State House voted to cut $250,000 in funding to next year’s Memphis Bicentennial celebration as a punishment for the city of Memphis legally removing two Civil War-themed statues. Seriously. This whole thing where, in parts of America, and Penzeys own backyard is no exception, that racists feel free to be openly racist because only those on the receiving end of racism should pay its price has to end.

If you are upset with the removal of a 1964 statue putting Jefferson Davis on a pedestal you aren’t fooling anyone. The idea of looking up to the leader of the terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of over one million Americans in their quest to keep race-based enslavement legal is not an idea for this century or any other for that matter. The time where politicians can claim to be American while doing their best to destroy American values has to be at an end. No more free passes.

We here at Penzeys, for a long time now, have really liked Bicentennials and really disliked racism, so this seemed a natural spot to try and pitch in to help make up for a slice of this quarter million dollar shortfall. Even though there’s not much money in selling $4.45 Ozark Seasonings for $2, and Memphis is technically just east of where the Ozarks begin, in the spirit of tastiness knowing no borders, we will donate $1 for each $2 1/4-cup Ozark sold during the length of the run of this offer.

Through yesterday we’ve sold 14,978 $2 Ozarks so we are already committed to $14,978 in Memphis Bicentennial support. As of yesterday we still had 14,584 1/4-cup Ozarks pre-positioned in our stores, and 6,000 at the ready in our warehouse.

Meanwhile, Memphis officials say they had no idea the Legislature had offered or removed the money until it happened. Even though they acknowledge the funding would have been helpful, they never asked the state to provide it and weren’t counting on it.

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.

Daniel Murray Meets Jim Crow

The recent antics in Charlottesville, Virginia ostensibly began as a protest of the impending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, astride his horse. The demonstrators were enraged by this attack on their heritage. The South’s Confederate legacy was so important that it took nearly sixty years, until 1924, for them to get around to erecting this monument in its honor. Like most Civil War memorials, this one was built not during the postwar reconstruction, but during the time of Jim Crow laws, a sort of “in your face” to African-Americans whose few decades of civil rights were ending.

Daniel Murray

Daniel Murray was born in Baltimore in1852. His father was a freed slave; his mother a free black woman. At the time of his birth, Baltimore had the largest free Black population in the country. Baltimore and nearby Washington D.C. were islands of opportunity for free blacks. Careers in government service and Howard University attracted African-American civic leaders and intellectuals. With timing, connections and his ability to network – sound familiar? – with both whites and blacks, Murray built a successful business and government career. By 1899, he was Assistant Librarian, the second-highest position at the Library of Congress, working with Congress doing research for legislation. He was a member of the Washington Board of Trade, the only non-white on the advocacy group of businessmen. Murray’s wife, Anna Evans, was a black socialite who taught at local schools and attended Oberlin College. They owned a three-story brick home in D.C.

Thomas Rice, a white vaudeville performer, became famous in the 1830s for a song and dance he performed in blackface and wearing shabby clothes. He claimed his inspiration was a slave he had seen. He called the routine “Jump, Jim Crow.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1877 that states could not prohibit segregation on streetcars, railroads, riverboats or other public transportation. That same year, federal troops were pulled out of the southern states. Reconstruction had ended. The Supreme Court promulgated its “separate but equal” doctrine in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case. (“Equal” had a different meaning in southern states.) A deluge of “Jim Crow” laws followed, peaking in the 1920s, coincided with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and a new need to put up Civil-War monuments. Confederate statuary reached a second peak in the fifties and sixties, a reaction to the escalating civil-rights movement.

After being inaugurated as president in 1913, Woodrow Wilson oversaw the segregation of federal offices, firing or demoting black employees and segregating facilities. Daniel Murray was one of those demoted and salary slashed. He was not allowed to eat in the Library’s public cafeteria. He died in 1925, in a segregated hospital and was buried in a segregated cemetery.

Read “The Original Black Elite” by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor.