N.B. Forrest resolution brings Sparks apology, Black Caucus condemnation

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators Thursday denounced a House resolution approved – by subterfuge, they said – that includes language praising Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The remarks followed a House speech by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, saying “no offense to the Black Caucus was intended” by his actions and saying he apologized to those offended. Sparks had sponsored a resolution that honored both Forrest and Sampson Keeble, the first black legislator to serve in Tennessee.

But after that measure was scuttled in committee, he won approval on the House “consent calendar” of a separate resolution that some of the same language praising Forrest that was part of the defeated resolution. The second resolution said in its title, or caption, that it honored a Louisiana pastor who also wrote a book on Forrest. An AP story on the House unwittingly praising the controversial Forrest was distributed nationally Wednesday evening. (Previous post HERE.)

Excerpts from the Tennessean’s report:

“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.

…Shortly after Sparks addressed the chamber on Thursday, members of the House black caucus, led by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, gathered at a podium, to express dismay over Sparks’ actions.

“As a member of this esteemed body, I like to think the best of everyone,” Akbari said, noting that she values the committee process that led to the defeat of Sparks’ resolution. “I had a conversation with the representative and I was told that these resolutions would be split and that if either one was presented, they would be debated.”

Akbari, who was also joined by House Majority Leader Glen Casada and House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, said that although she did not want to debate the merits of Forrest he was “a slave trader.”

“Slavery is the cruelest, most inhumane part of our history – one that should be learned from but certainly not celebrated,” she said

…Although (Democratic Rep. Antonio) Parkinson stopped short of calling Sparks a racist, he said, “Anytime an individual — a non-African-American individual — tells me that my best friend is black, that’s a red flag to me.”

Parkinson said while he loves history like many of his House colleagues, he doesn’t celebrate all history. The Memphis lawmaker rhetorically asked how his colleagues would feel if he quietly got them to vote on a resolution honoring Nat Turner, who led a rebellion of slaves that resulted in the deaths of white people, or Louis Farrakhan, the at-times controversial leader of the Nation of Islam.

“I want you to understand how I feel right now,” he said, calling the situation a national embarrassment before reading several ads in which African-Americans in Memphis were sold during slavery.

Parkinson said he didn’t want Sparks apology because it would be “mere words.

As the chamber continued to go through its business for the day, Casada had a brief conversation with Sparks at his desk.

When the floor session ended, Casada said he wanted to understand Sparks’ actions. Casada said he also informed Sparks about what he said the author had written other literature that he said was racist in nature.

“We should not commemorate those people,” Casada said. “I think we all stood up as a body and said to the state of Tennessee: we’re sorry, it won’t happen again.”

Williams said he and Casada stood with members of the black caucus to show their level of concern “about the process,” referring to the legislative system.

“We just want to make sure that the integrity of the consent calendar process is intact,” said Williams.

In a news conference afterwards, Akbari and Parkinson were joined by other caucus members and Democratic leader in condemning the Sparks resolution and the means by which is was “slipped through” the legislative process.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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