For some in Blount County, the actions by white supremacists on Memorial Day weekend was an eyeopener. For others, the protesters and racist fliers were no surprise at all. For a few Daily Times readers, coverage of the events was the issue. One reader offered: “This story’s slant on the negative defies justification.” The main complaint was that publishing the story called attention to the group, which is what it wanted.
To state the obvious, it is difficult to find a positive slant on white supremacists, especially when they behave in apparent retaliation for two churches and a bookstore hosting an anti-racist author and historian.
The inspiration — if that’s the right word — for the events was a presentation by the author of “Deep Denial; The Persistence of White Supremacy in U.S. History and Life” that Saturday. David Billings held a book signing at Southland Books and Cafe on East Broadway Avenue.
On Sunday he addressed groups at Highland Presbyterian Church on East Lamar Alexander Parkway and First United Methodist Church on Montvale Station Road. That morning, fliers espousing white supremacist rhetoric were discovered at the bookstore, and church officials at Highland Presbyterian filed a police report. That evening, a group of protesters assembled across the street from First UMC where Billings, an ordained minister, was the keynote speaker for a presentation on “Conversation Matters.”
After being contacted by the owner of the bookstore, the Anti-Defamation League determined through digital footprints and photos that five of the eight protesters were members of the Arkansas-based Shield Wall Network that describes itself as a “community grassroots patriotic outreach and organization.” According to an Anti-Defamation League spokesperson, the group’s goal is to create a “white ethnostate.”
Here’s a positive slant: None of those identified were Blount Countians.
Looking deeper for the positive, there’s a new memorial and museum in Montgomery, Ala., dedicated to the victims of lynchings. The National Memorial of Peace and Justice commemorates 4,400 black people who were slain in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950. Their names, where known, are engraved on 800 dark, rectangular steel columns. Each column represents a county where lynchings occurred.
How is there positive in that? This is America’s first memorial to those lynched by terrorists. Visitors to Germany might be astounded at the number of reminders of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were murdered. The message is clear. This horror will not be forgotten by future generations of Germans.
The new Montgomery museum that opened in April is a singular reminder to Americans that racist terrorism once flourished in this declared land of the free.
For Blount County, the positive is this: Among those 800 slabs of steel, 58 of Tennessee’s 95 counties are represented. But Blount County is nowhere to be found. It might be naive to assume there were no racial killings in all those years in Blount, but the Equal Justice Initiative did not find evidence of it.
The Daily Times traces its roots to 1883. Could it be that racial killings occurred but were not reported by The Daily Times over all those years? We sincerely doubt it.
A last thought on the positive. As abhorrent as are the beliefs of those who would divide humanity by race, the white supremacists who came to Blount County abided by the law. No doubt they understood the rules of protest, as explained to them by the Maryville Police Department.
The Rev. Catherine Nance, senior pastor at First UMC, said, “We appreciate them being peaceful protesters, and I found the whole thing to be rather ironic since it’s Memorial Day weekend. We’re honoring the men and women who died for our freedoms. They have the freedom to do what they did.”
And The Daily Times had the freedom to report on it. Both rights are clearly stated by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“Amen” to that. Or, if you so prefer, “right on.” Freedom of speech is your right to exercise as you choose.