NASHVILLE — Toppled last summer by protesters from its prominent perch before the Tennessee state Capitol, the statue of late 19th and early 20th Century newspaper editor, U.S. senator, alcohol prohibitionist and segregationist Edward Ward Carmack appears unlikely to return to its pedestal.
That's because Tennessee legislators are poised to pass a bill requiring a statue of David "Davy" Crockett be placed on the site after design of the privately funded statue is approved by the State Capitol Commission, money privately raised to complete the statue and carry out the project.
The Senate bill to install a statue of Crockett, the 19th Century frontiersman, former state legislator and congressman who later died at the Alamo in the fight for Texas independence, is now being readied for final state Senate floor action. The GOP-run Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the measure, Senate Bill 1048, on a 9-0 vote Tuesday.
Members in the GOP-led House previously approved the measure, House Bill 220, last month on an 87-0 vote. In the upper chamber, Senate Bill 1048 has been referred to the Calendar Committee to schedule a floor vote for final approval.
Crockett is also known for his strong stance opposing fellow Tennessean and then-U.S. President Andrew Jackson's forced removal of Cherokees and other Native Americans from the Southeastern U.S.
Sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, the legislation says that "once the design of the monument or statue honoring David Crockett is approved by the state capitol commission and the monument or statue is completed, the monument or statue must be placed on a pedestal above the entrance to the Motlow Tunnel on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard."
The bill notes that "if relocation of an existing structure is required, private funds must be used for the relocation, and state funds must not be expended for the relocation of an existing structure."
In light of the damage done to the Carmack statue when it was toppled during racial justice protests last summer in several U.S. cities, it's not clear when or if the statue will be reinstalled, especially if the measure requiring one of Crockett be placed there becomes law as expected.
Southerland, who along with Hawk represents an East Tennessee area where a young Crockett once lived, said he and Hawk had sought a suitable place last year for the Crockett statue "and the [Capitol] commission felt that the place we decided on [Carmack site] was the perfect place. But we didn't know how we'd ever get a bill to remove Carmack."
Regarding last year's effort, Southerland said "I didn't think it would be possible to remove Carmack."
He then smiled and then added: "Someone removed it for us, so they did us a favor."
Carmack's massive statue was erected to commemorate the late publisher and former U.S. senator who died in 1908 during a public gunfight with political opponents in Nashville.
He was known among other things for his racist editorials while working for Memphis and Nashville newspapers, focusing his ire in Memphis against Ida B. Wells. Wells, who was Black, was a groundbreaking journalist, activist, researcher and advocate for women's rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fighting sexism and racism while exposing lynching of Black men in the South.
Carmack's monument and statue has come under attack and criticism. Among those weighing in last year against him was music superstar Taylor Swift.
His statue and pedestal, however, came about as a result of another of his battles: the fight to outlaw alcohol in Tennessee. Carmack's supporters and admirers fought to get the statue erected.
Decades later, a different generation of Tennessee lawmakers literally undermined Carmack's monument. The state built a tunnel leading underground from a street to an elevator, sparing Capitol workers, visitors and legislators from the laborious climb up steps.
Legislators named the 1950s-era tunnel beneath the Carmack monument after two former lawmakers — Lem Motlow and his son Reagor Motlow. Lem Motlow founded the Jack Daniel's distillery. His son Reagor later took over its operations.
Critics have also pushed to remove a bust of Confederate general and first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest. Republican Gov. Bill Lee took up the cause and the Tennessee Historical Commission approved removal of the bust to the state museum. But a Republican bill to block the effort is moving in the Senate.
Then-Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, had hoped to get the Forrest bust replaced with one of Crockett. There was a Crockett bust commissioned and later installed in 2016 on the Capitol's second floor, but the Forrest bust remains there.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
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