The evolution of parenting

Backpacker magazine had an interesting feature this month on five-year-old Christian Thomas — the youngest person to ever thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The whole piece is intriguing, but one part stood out to me, because it’s true . . . and that’s the part about how society has come to the conclusion that it can be a better parent than . . . well, parents

How far is too far? How much toil and suffering should a kid take—and what for? A generation ago, back when children roamed the streets freely, pedaling their banana seat bikes in a time before helmets, no one fretted over such questions. When a six-year-old boy named Michael Cogswell thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail with his parents in 1980, there was nothing but feel-good rhetoric surrounding his hike. Newspapers made light of how the little boy crashed constantly, weighted by his pack, and this magazine ran a celebratory story in which the author, Michael’s stepdad Jeffrey Cogswell, waxed poetic about the trailside flora—“red trillium, violets, purple ironweed”—and lionized the little boy’s perseverance as a photo showed a wonderstruck Michael drinking from an ice-skimmed mountain creek.

Now, though, childrearing is a science, and sniping at other people’s parenting techniques may be our favorite contact sport. When journalist Lenore Skenazy decided in 2008 to let her nine-year-old son ride the New York subway alone, she received thousands of hate letters and was called “America’s Worst Mom.” (Her response: Similar skepticism has surrounded two Texas sisters who run half-marathons. When The New York Times profiled Kaytlynn Welsch, 12, and Heather Welsch, 10, in 2012, the headline asked, “Too Fast Too Soon?” One reader responded, “This is child abuse.”


A rainy 4th of July weekend

As I alluded to earlier in the week, the forecast for the Independence Day holiday period looks pretty gloomy. Here’s the latest for the northern Cumberland Plateau from the National Weather Service’s Morristown office:

• 60% chance of thunderstorms today
• 70% chance of thunderstorms tonight
• 80% chance of heavy rain tomorrow
• 80% chance of heavy rain tomorrow night
• 70% chance of heavy rain Friday
• 60% chance of thunderstorms Friday night
• 60% chance of thunderstorms Saturday
• 50% chance of thunderstorms Saturday night
• 50% chance of thunderstorms Sunday

That’s hardly summer-like weather, but welcome El Nino. It didn’t start off as a typical El Nino summer (if there’s such a thing as a typical El Nino summer), but remember the post I made at the first of June stating that hot and dry weather to begin an El Nino summer doesn’t always mean hot and dry weather will persist through an El Nino summer, and we’ve certainly seen a pattern change take hold over the past week or so.

So just how much rain are we talking? Lots. Here’s a precipitation map created by the NWS, valid from now through the weekend:


So not only are fireworks enthusiasts going to have to try to shoot off their fireworks between rain showers, but picnics are going to be soggy and, obviously if that map is correct, there could be some flooding concerns as well.

Are you groaning inwardly yet?

Here’s the setup: a broad-scale trough is in place in the upper levels of the atmosphere, allowing the jet stream to drop south and deliver multiple pieces of energy into a moisture-rich environment. Severe storms have already been an issue this week, and that will continue to be somewhat of a threat at times, but the main thing is just going to be rain. It’s a tropical-like atmosphere, and anytime storms form, the rainfall amounts could be copious.

This morning, there’s a large convective complex that has developed over the four-state area of southeast Missouri, southwest Kentucky, northeast Arkansas and northwest Tennessee, and that will push southeast through the day today, impacting our area this afternoon. (Current radar.) All that rain and all that cloud cover could limit severe storm potential today, but the NWS does think severe weather could prove to be a concern later on this afternoon. The NWS’s Storm Prediction Center does currently have much of Tennessee, including the northern plateau, under a slight risk for severe weather today:

Day1otlk 1300

Models indicate that a second complex will develop to the west of the current complex later on today, which will keep rain and storms around for us throughout the night tonight.


But things don’t get any better tomorrow.

By the time we get into tomorrow morning, a low pressure system will be nearing (over the lower Midwest), dragging a frontal boundary with it. That will serve as a trigger for even more rain and thunderstorms. And with models progging precipitable water values up to two inches across most of the Volunteer State, that’s where the NWS’s “heavy rain” forecast is coming from. And, again, strong storms will be possible. While the SPC’s current forecast does not include the northern plateau in tomorrow’s “slight risk” for severe weather, the risk area isn’t far away:

Day2otlk 0600

But an even bigger threat by that point could be localized flooding. The NWS notes in its forecast discussion this morning: “The bigger concern will be flash flooding from training cells. A flash flood watch may be needed.” 

You’re groaning now, right?

Still, it doesn’t get any better.

Just a few days ago, models were showing some pretty significant improvements after this frontal boundary gets out of the way late tomorrow or early Friday. But later model runs are showing plenty of rich, deep moisture in the atmosphere all the way through the weekend . . . it’s just a matter of what kind of atmospheric trigger exists for storms. For now, one domestic model —  the NAM — shifts the bulk of the activity a little further north, while another — the GFS — keeps it further south. 

And that’s why the NWS has likely chances of thunderstorms in the forecast all the way through the weekend.

For now, the NWS’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) believes the weekend will be somewhat drier (as long as we keep in mind that “dry” is a relative term). Here’s what the HPC projects for Wednesday-Friday:

D13 fill

And here’s what it projects for Saturday and Sunday:

95ep48iwbg fill 1

Either way, that’s more than enough rain . . . especially given what’s already fallen since last Friday.

It’s worth pointing out that this morning’s run of the GFS model backed off somewhat on precipitation totals over the next several days. For the next 60 hours, the GFS paints generally 1.5 inches of rain or less over most of Tennessee, with lesser amounts in East Tennessee. The model shows the bulk of the rain centered around the actual low pressure, which is further north. However, there’s always an important caveat that goes with these models — they don’t handle convective precipitation well. Synoptic precip, they do better with. The bottom line is that there will be a deep moisture level hovering over the entire region over the next several days with plenty of energy impulses to trigger convection . . . which is why the NWS is forecasting a wet holiday period.

It remains to be seen just how much things will improve next week. At one point, the models were showing the trough exiting and ridging returning over the eastern U.S., which would lead to a more summer-like pattern with dry weather and hot temperatures. But the latest runs squash the ridging fairly quickly, bringing back rain and mild temps later next week.

Again, this isn’t totally unexpected for an El Nino summer. As I pointed out in a post before summer began, two of the wettest and coolest summers in recent history — 1997 and 2009 — were both El Nino summers.


A hiking grin and a grimace

F6fff4fd c3a9 4e8b b270 45564f521ec1

GOOD: Adidas’s Terex Swift R GTX hiking shoes. I detest hiking boots; absolutely detest them. But hiking shoes are hard to come by — quality ones, anyway. I picked up a pair of these from REI ($135) back in the winter and fell in love with them. They are without question the best shoes I’ve ever tried on the trail. They’re comfortable enough for an all-day hike without blisters, fit perfectly, and Gore-Tex finishing touch removes puddles as an obstacle on the trail. I will buy another pair of these when I’ve worn mine out, but so far they’re holding up well.


BAD: I’m not a minimalist by nature. But I do enjoy going barefoot . . . I’m just not brave enough to jump into the barefoot hiking fad with both feet. So when I saw these Amuri Z-Trek minimalist sport sandals from Xero in a Backpacker magazine ad, I had to have a pair. I purchased a pair from the Xero website ($60). I was sold on the fact that they can be folded and fit into just about any nook or cranny of a backpack, they’re billed as lightweight sandals you can hike in or even run a marathon in, and the fact that they come with a 5,000-mile warranty. So much for trail hiking in comfort. I couldn’t even go a day at the beach without blisters. The concept is good . . . but the design just hasn’t caught up yet. The strap system just doesn’t cut it. Now I have a pair of $60 sandals in my closet, where they’ll probably stay forever, while I wear a pair of $5 Walmart flip-flops. What’s wrong with this picture?!

Links and such

A quick note to say “thank you” for some folks for some shares in recent days.

First, to Rhea Review and managing editor Elmer Harris for picking up a post you might’ve seen here: We have officially lost our minds.

Secondly, Amanda Stravinsky and the Tennessee Department of Tourism for publishing my post about the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge on’s TripTales blog: Twenty-week hiking challenge encourages discovery and fitness in Big South Fork Country.

Swain didn’t seek spotlight

I didn’t know Bill Swain.

I knew him well enough to shake hands with him on the occasions I bumped into him at various events around Scott County, but we never spoke much beyond the customary, “Hello” and “How are you?” greetings.

Maybe I should be ashamed to admit that, but to me it is an example of just how Bill Swain lived his life.

By the time I was finishing school and returning to Scott County to work, Swain was stepping out of his day-to-day role at First National Bank. He maintained an active schedule and continued to play an instrumental role from behind the scenes. But, for the most part, that’s how Swain lived much of his life — behind the scenes.

Swain didn’t command the spotlight. He didn’t ask for credit. He simply realized the needs that needed to be met within the community, and tried to do his best to see that they were met.

For the past 50 years, it’s hard to think of a single advancement in Scott County — technological or economic — that Swain didn’t have a hand in. Some of the stories are well-known — such as his work to help bring a modern telecommunications network to Scott County and his role in Roane State Community College’s local campus. Other stories didn’t come to light until after his death last week, when folks throughout Scott County paused to reflect on the role he played here.

As Stacey Kidd, executive director of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce and secretary of the Industrial Development Board, said last week, “Story after story is being told of his quiet investments into the vision of Scott County. No one much knew, because that is the way he wanted it.”

Scott County struggles for equal footing in a region that includes some of Tennessee’s top economic powers. Our citizens are generally under-employed, under-paid and under-educated. But one can’t help but wonder how much worse off our community would be without the vision and foresight of Bill Swain.

When Swain came to Scott County in 1942, there were no paved roads aside from U.S. Hwy. 27. There as no public water outside Oneida. The corporate players in the telecommunications industry didn’t see a lucrative enough opportunity to invest in infrastructure here, leaving the business community struggling to communicate on an antiquated party-line system. There was no hospital. There were no post-secondary educational opportunities for high school graduates.

By the end of Swain’s career, there was public water for virtually every household in Scott County, high-speed fiber optic internet access in every home and business, a hospital, and a community college that partners with one of the state’s foremost universities to provide four-year degrees locally.

Some of that would’ve obviously happened without Swain’s involvement. But the fact that he played a role in every single bit of it speaks volumes about his legacy.

The fact that he never asked for credit for any of it speaks even more.

• Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at

The preceding is my newspaper column for the week.

Another wet 4th?

Few of us who plan outside activities around the 4th of July have likely forgotten 2013′s Independence Day, when the holiday was greeted by soaking rains. And it seems that the last decade or so have featured more wet 4ths of July than not. Obviously this time of year there’s always an attendant thunderstorm threat on any given summer afternoon, but more organized wet weather seems to have hampered the 4th of July holiday the last several years.

This year may continue with that theme. The upper-air pattern change that we saw kick in on Friday, with a stubborn ridge that had dominated our weather pattern for much of the month of June, delivering hot temperatures and little rain, replaced with a broad trough that delivers plenty of rain and even cooler-than-average temperatures.

After tomorrow, which features a 30% rain chance, each day — and night — the rest of the week has at least a 50% chance of thunderstorms (often a 60% chance) in the National Weather Service’s current forecast for the northern plateau. And while there’s no guarantee where the heaviest rains will set up, it appears that there could be several rounds of thunderstorms very similar to Friday, where those who wind up under the worst storms see torrential rainfall. The NWS mentioned in this afternoon’s forecast discussion that the weather pattern will be “unsettled” all week.

For several days, models have shown a strong shortwave system traversing the region late Wednesday into Thursday, which would bring with it enhanced chances of thunderstorms, after which the trough would flatten a bit for the holiday weekend — which would, in theory at least, result in decreased precipitation chances. However, the latest trend by the GFS model has been to keep impulses flowing through the region each day Friday through Sunday, which should lead to plenty of ammo for thunderstorms to fire off at just about any time. 

In a hazardous weather outlook posted this afternoon, the NWS warns of the chance of strong thunderstorms during the latter half of the week and into the weekend, with strong wind gusts, torrential rains and frequent lightning. The outlook mentions the potential for flash flooding, as well.

In its forecast discussion this afternoon, the NWS’s Nashville office points out that the primary trigger for thunderstorms this weekend looks to be Friday night into Saturday morning, adding that rain should be expected then, but the rest of the weekend might be drier. 

It’s worth pointing out that the last couple of runs of the GFS model have trended a bit drier overall, but the GFS is still painting a couple of inches of rain for the entire region over the course of the week. And with very high precipitable water values being painted by the model, folks who wind up under the strongest storms could be looking at more rain than that.


Destination: A rainy day hike to John Litton Farm

The best time to hike — especially with a camera en tow — is immediately after a refreshing rainfall.

Camping in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area this weekend made for a wet time. Severe thunderstorms set in Friday evening, dumping copious amounts of rain, and the showers continued well into the day Saturday. As the rain began to let up at times Saturday morning, I put on my hiking shoes and grabbed my camera for a hike to the John Litton Farm.

Litton-Farm-1The Litton Farm Loop is also a part of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail — denoted by the turtle signs (Sheltowee means “Big Turtle,” the nickname of Daniel Boone) — that starts in Morehead, Ky., with a southern terminus at Burnt Mill Bridge on the southern end of the BSF.

Litton-Farm-2Raindrops cling to the needles of a white pine along the start of the trail. The John Litton Farm Loop begins at the Bandy Creek Campground and traverses through part of the Scott State Forest atop the plateau.

Litton-Farm-3Mountain laurel crowds the hiking trail. Before it drops into the gorge by way of Fall Branch, the Litton Farm Loop travels through a mixed oak forest that includes thickets of laurel, pines and a variety of shrubs.

Litton-Farm-4A pair of wooden ladders take the Litton Farm Loop trail beneath the bluff lines along Fall Branch. Draining most of the plateau lands around Bandy Creek Campground, Fall Branch is also one of the most scenic streams within the BSF. It eventually widens into a cliff-lined gorge before emptying into the BSF River just above Angel Falls.

Litton-Farm-5Once it descends to the bottom of the bluffs, the trail is characterized by forestland more typical of the shaded gorge areas within the BSF — ferns, rhododendron and bigleaf magnolia.

Litton-Farm-6The bigleaf magnolia is the largest simple-leaf plant — with the largest flower — of any species in North America. It’s found in large portions of Mississippi and Alabama near the Gulf of Mexico. In Tennessee, it’s found primarily in the shaded ravines and streams of the Cumberland Plateau, particularly in the BSF.

Litton-Farm-7Ferns blanket either side of the trail along Fall Branch. If ferns had a monetary value, John Litton could’ve been a rich man. There is no shortage of them here.

Litton-Farm-8There are few times of the year more spectacular in the Big South Fork NRRA than when the rhododendron is blooming. There are various species of rhododendron in the park, and they bloom at various times, but the predominant species blooms in June and produces spectacular white flowers in large clumps.

Litton-Farm-9Step for step, there is no hiking trail in the BSF with a greater concentration of rhododendron than the Litton Farm Loop. Here, the rhododendron creates a sort of tunnel along the trail. Ahead, where the light shines through, rhododendron blooms litter the trail.

Litton-Farm-10Another view of the rhododendron crowding the trail.

Litton-Farm-11Unfortunately for hikers and sightseers, the rhododendron blooming period is nearing an end, as the plants drop their blooms.

Litton-Farm-12A carefully-crafted spider’s web amongst the rhododendron thicket.

Litton-Farm-13Life is always cycling in the forest. A beaver took down this tree, but new shoots have emerged from its stump and soon will grow into a tree to replace its space on the forest floor.

Litton-Farm-14As Fall Branch makes its way towards the river, it makes its way over a 10-ft. ledge to create Fall Branch Falls. It’s a popular camping spot for backpackers, and a great place to cool off.

Litton-Farm-15This is the view from the inside looking out. Beneath the waterfall is a small rock shelter.



Water drips from rock lichen beneath the base of Fall Branch Falls.

Litton-Farm-17I wasn’t the only critter on the trail. Hikers are supposed to yield to other usage groups on multi-use trails, but this box turtle didn’t appear to be in any real hurry.

Litton-Farm-18Eventually, the Litton Farm Loop trail crosses a bridge over the North Fork of Fall Branch, and turns up that feeder stream towards the Litton Farm itself. Near where the two forks of Fall Branch meet, this giant hemlock tree has always been one of my favorites. It sits entirely on top of a large boulder, its roots stretching like tentacles to the sandy soil beneath the rock.

Litton-Farm-19Once the trail emerges onto an old roadbed, John Litton’s farm is just ahead.

Litton-Farm-20The original split-rail fence is the first thing to come into view as you arrive at the Litton Farm. Built around the turn of the century by John Litton, this was a classic BSF subsistence farm. Litton and his family truly lived off the land — building their home, barn and other outbuildings from trees in the forests nearby, raising a garden and livestock, and subsiding on the berries, nuts and wildlife found in the forests.

Litton-Farm-21A piece of old farm equipment is silhouetted inside Litton’s spectacular, two-story barn. The barn still stands, along with a corn crib. In the woods nearby, fenced enclosures at the base of the bluffs were once used to hold pigs. (I didn’t hike up there because I was wet and the deer flies were showing me no mercy.)

Litton-Farm-22A drawing on interpretive signage placed by the National Park Service in one of the fields at the Litton Farm depicts what life would’ve been like for John Litton and his wife, Vi, in the early 20th Century.


The old home at the Litton Farm — as the blue sky begins to peak through the rain clouds (unfortunately for me, it wouldn’t last; rain would soon begin to fall again). The Littons built a one-room cabin, which was added on to by General Slaven (his name, not a title) and his wife, Did, after they purchased the farm just after World War II. They continued living there — without electricity or running water — until the federal government purchased the property for the national park in the 1970s.

Litton-Farm-24This large (and ornery) snapping turtle was much less forgiving about having to share the trail than his box turtle cousin had been a little earlier in the morning.

Litton-Farm-25The last glance at the Litton Farm is of the old English-style barn as the trail turns back down the North Fork of Fall Branch and then begins its ascent back to the top of the plateau. The last couple of miles of the trail lead hikers through another example of a mixed-oak forest, old fields that are in various stages of natural reclamation by the forest, and, finally, the gravel road that leads back to Bandy Creek.

Litton-Farm-27Hungry? Why wait? Blackberries are just beginning to ripen…but beware — the Big South Fork NRRA is home to an estimated 300 black bears, and they love blackberries, too. (That didn’t stop me from sampling them. Fortunately, the bears didn’t return the favor and stop by camp to sample my food.)
















We have officially lost our minds

We’ve seen plenty of knee-jerk reactions over the past few days that prove just how far down into the gutter of political correctness that we’ve slid…from Amazon pulling its Confederate merchandise while still offering Nazi merchandise to the sudden belief that monuments that have been in place for decades are suddenly not okay because one man out of a nation of more than 300 million people acted stupidly and evilly hundreds of miles away. 

But this might prove that we’ve officially lost our minds: Questioning whether it’s time for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. to be removed. And, not surprisingly, those ridiculous questions were raised by anchors of CNN — which is to cable news as the New York Times is to newspapers.

Jefferson has a memorial in his honor in the nation’s capital because he was one of America’s foremost founding fathers — the nation’s third president and, more importantly, the author of the Declaration of Independence.

But CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield questions whether the Jefferson memorial should be taken down because he owned slaves.

Her colleague, Don Lemon, chimed in to express doubt . . . but then said, “There may come a day when we want to rethink Jefferson.” 

Lemon had an epiphany, though. He said that Jefferson represented, “The entire United States, not just the South.” 

I’m not exactly sure what to make of that. Is it only Southern slave-owners who should be stricken from American history? Or all of them? 

Jefferson may have represented the entire U.S.; certainly he was a national figure. But he did hail from what would eventually become a Confederate state (Virginia) and had he been alive as national tensions over slavery and tariffs reached a breaking point, he would have almost certainly become a key player in the Confederacy. 

But here’s something both Lemon and Banfield might be interested in knowing: George Washington owned slaves, too.

Obviously you would expect CNN news anchors to know that; it’s basic middle school social studies stuff. But since they questioned the Jefferson Memorial without questioning the Washington Monument, who knows? 

But Washington did own slaves — more than 200, in fact. And he owned them while serving as president. In fact, when Pennsylvania passed a law freeing slaves that had been residents of the state for six months or more while he was president in the nation’s capital of Philadelphia, he responded by sending his two most valuable slaves back home to Virginia.

So if the Jefferson Memorial comes down, clearly the Washington Monument has to come down, too. For that matter, the name of our nation’s capital has to change. The $1 bill (and much rarer $2 bill) has to be changed to remove Washington’s and Jefferson’s likenesses. Then, while we’re at it, the $20 bill has to be changed to remove Andrew Jackson’s face, since he owned more than 150 slaves. Then, of course, ol’ Ben Franklin will have to go from the $100 bill, since he owned slaves. And how about Ulysses S. Grant? He commanded Union forces during the Civil War, but he was once a slaveowner himself. He’ll have to be removed, as well. 

It’s true. Grant was once a slaveowner. His lone slave paled in comparison to the 200+ owned by Jefferson, but he was a slaveowner nonetheless. 

It might come as a surprise to Banfield and Lemon, but slavery was not just a Southern problem. It was an American problem. Yes, the North enlightened itself a little sooner, and the South tried to hang on to the institution of slavery for too long, but there was a time when the entire nation, with few exceptions, was ignorant to the basic tenet of all men being created equal. (In fact, it might even surprise Banfield and Lemon to know that while General Grant had freed his slave[s] by the start of the Civil War, Southern General Robert E. Lee freed his slaves amid the war, in 1862, and wrote letters generally opposing slavery.) 

Without rehashing the entire debate of whether the Civil War was fought over slavery, South Carolina — the first state to secede — did so by proposing a “Confederacy of slave states,” and several of the southern states, including Mississippi and Texas, mentioned slavery prominently in their secession documents. To contrast that, most northern states had abolished slavery by the start of the war. Pro-union enclaves in the South, such as East Tennessee and Winston County, Alabama, just happened to correlate with areas where there were few to no plantations and few to no slaves. Slavery wasn’t the only issue at stake, but it was a central and prominent one.

Still, the fact remains that the United States of America for many years embraced slavery as a nation. While we’re tearing down monuments (Mount Rushmore must go as well, incidentally, since it includes Washington’s and Jefferson’s likenesses), are we going to rewrite history? Until the late 1800s, there were only a few U.S. presidents who did not own slaves at some point. John Adams did not, John Quincy Adams did not, but most of the other notable founding fathers and/or presidents did.

Ironically, perhaps, the last four presidents before the Civil War did not own slaves (Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln), but the immediate post-war era saw the election of two presidents who had once owned slaves — Johnson and Grant.

Are we prepared to rewrite all of America’s founding history? 

Before you scoff at that notion, consider that there are Americans who think we should. Huffington Post writer Elizabeth Dowling Taylor opined three years ago that America’s slave-owning founding fathers should not be honored at all.

As if tearing down the Washington and Jefferson memorials, reprinting our money and demolishing Mount Rushmore would not be enough, there will have to be countless name changes of roads, towns, universities . . . the list goes on and on. After all, 12 of our presidents owned slaves, and eight of them owned slaves while in office. 

You can see how it might become quite complicated. 

To suggest that we should be ashamed of our founding fathers for owning slaves, even so far as to refuse to honor them today, is to ignore the simple fact that there was a time when we were all ignorant. In her piece linked above, Taylor wrote that “slavery was not a debate” in the 1700s. That’s a demonstration of historical ignorance. There was a time in our nation’s history when you would’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone of national prominence who opposed slavery on moral grounds. We like to consider ourselves enlightened today, but if Taylor and myself had been born far enough back, we, too, would have almost certainly supported slavery. That’s sad, because we now realize just how cruel and awful the institution of slavery was. It’s sadder still that we used some of the basic tenets of Christianity to justify slavery when those very principles should’ve showed us how wrong it was. It’s a black mark on our nation’s history that we can never scrub clean no matter how hard we try.

And that’s why we shouldn’t. Rewriting our past is an exercise in futility. The best we can do is ensure that the injustices of our forefathers never repeat themselves and do our best to repair the racial discord that remains some 200 years later.

Because here’s the simple truth: Even if it were possible to rewrite our past by tearing down monuments and censoring historical manuscripts, we will have another major undertaking once we get past slavery: the misdeeds committed against the American Indian. Under the guise of what was best for America, many Native Americans were cruelly slain and many more were driven from their homeland by the U.S. government, flying a U.S. flag. And for as few people who thought slavery a crime in the 1700s, fewer still thought it a crime to uproot the natives in order to make room for expansion.

Yet you can count on comments like Banfield’s and Lemon’s becoming more frequent in the days to come. Just yesterday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposed to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capital. Forrest was more than just an ingenious (if somewhat ruthless) Tennessee war leader during the Civil War; he was also one of the early fathers of the Ku Klux Klan. 

But would you be surprised to know who said this:

I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? . . . I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going . . . I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment.

Those comments were made by Forrest to a black audience, after a black lady had handed him a bouquet of flowers as an expression of the group’s spirit of reconciliation with Forrest, who had by that time distanced himself from the Klan. 

There’s no doubt that Forrest committed atrocities while serving as a Confederate war leader (see the alleged Fort Pillow Massacre), and there’s little doubt that he committed more atrocities as a KKK leader. 

But Forrest also distanced himself from the Klan and its activities. Apparently, he made peace with his black people and, apparently, they made peace with him. And he was one of the first once-prominent white Southern leaders to make efforts to reconcile the races and put an end to the racial divide in the post-slavery era. 

Is that so much different from guys like General Grant, who was once a slave-owner before he realized the error of his ways? 

This isn’t a diatribe that is intended to romanticize the Old South. I caught a little flack for writing earlier in the week that I think South Carolina (and other states) have no business flying the Confederate flag at government buildings, and I do not consider the Confederate flag a part of my heritage, as an East Tennessean whose ancestors were almost certainly pro-Union. 

But our efforts to rewrite our history are little more than knee-jerk reactions that distract from what should be the main goal at hand: and that is to make sure that white people and black people stop killing one another out of hatred.

Yes, it does go both ways

It is politically incorrect to point out — as I did last week — that racism isn’t just a white problem; that it’s driven by blacks who refuse to move forward from the past and take accountability for their own communities and their own problems just as much as it is driven by white supremacists who wear their hatred and bitterness on their sleeve for all the world to see.

In the aftermath of the Charleston slaughter, many journalists — often black, often employed by the mainstream media, incidentally — have stepped forward to tell us attitudes of white supremacy are alive and well in the United States today. As Karen Attiah, an editor at the Washington Post, told us, the murders of nine church-goers at Emanuel AME were “a deeply violent reminder that racism and white supremacy continue to course through America’s veins.”

And that’s true. As I said last week, I don’t think anyone would deny that America has more than its fair share of racist white people.

The problem, as I also said last week, is that we refuse to acknowledge that the same applies on the other side of the racial divide. 

To that end, I give you Malik Shabazz, leader of the New Black Panthers. Speaking in Charleston, Shabazz urged his audience to finish Denmark Vesey’s 19th Century plan to kill “slave masters.”

That is a call to arms; a clear effort to incite violence — nothing new for the Black Panthers.

And guess how many of the mainstream media outlets picked up on the story? Not a one of them.

Want to guess what the media outrage would’ve been like if a white person — even if it was one who speaks from the fringe, like Shabazz does — had uttered words calling for the deaths of black people? 

Let’s set that aside, though, and examine the irony of Shabazz’s comments (and Louis Farrakhan, who is also trying to stir black people to arms).

Something strange happened in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting. Many of the victims’ family members publicly offered forgiveness to Dylann Roof. There were no riots, no looting, no angry marches on public places. Just forgiveness, in the spirit of the faith the church-goers were engaged in when Roof gunned them down. 

Forgiveness is one of God’s commands to his people; Jesus himself, as he was dying, said, “Father, forgive them.” For Christians, harboring hatred does more than hinder their testimony; it is sinful in the eyes of God. 

And, yet, forgiveness is tough. Very few are strong enough in their faith to offer it. 

As Michael Gerson wrote, “The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, and then forgiven by the people he deeply harmed. These victims and their families have shown what it means to be followers of Christ.”

The response from Charleston wasn’t unlike the response when Walter Scott, a black man, was gunned down by Michael Slager, a white police officer. 

Scott was a criminal who was attempting to evade arrest, squarely placing him in the wrong, as has been the case in all the other examples of deaths at the hands of police that have made national headlines over the past year. But, in this case, unlike many of the others, there was compelling video evidence that the police officer was in the wrong. There was arguably more reason for anger over Scott’s death than over Michael Brown’s death or Eric Garner’s death or any of the others.

And, yet, Charleston reacted not with the same violence that we saw in Ferguson or Baltimore, but with peace and calm. 

Collectively, these two incidents speak volumes about the character of Charleston’s black community.

Their reward? A hate-filled man who wanted to exterminate black people just for being black drove more than two hours to choose a specific historic church in a specific historic city, killing victims who welcomed him with open arms as they worshipped God — killing them for no reason other than the color of their skin.

There would be no excuse if Charleston’s black residents responded angrily, with the looting and rioting that we’ve seen in other cities. There would’ve been no excuse whatsoever. But, by the same token, it would’ve been hard to blame them if they had responded with a bit of anger.

Instead, they responded with forgiveness.

And what did that forgiveness earn them? Across the nation, white people and black people are rallying together to end racism. We’ve heard so many times that we need to be united as one people, regardless of the color of our skins, because we’re all Americans; we’re all a part of the human race. And Dylann Roof, who allegedly said that he wanted to start a race war, caused millions of people to do just that — unite as one. Some of the response has been completely misguided (see the knee-jerk attempts to ban all appearances of the Confederate flag and to remove Confederate monuments), but the overall theme has been one of white people saying, “Hey…we’ve got your back. We’ve had enough.” 

Until Malik Shabazz rode into town. 

In a city where the resounding message had been one of reconciliation, Shabazz arrived with a motive that was anything but reconciliatory. Shabazz — and those like him — are not interested in human unity and racial harmony. They’re interested only in sowing seeds of racial discord. The only difference between Malik Shabazz and Dylann Roof is that Roof actually carried through with his wishes and desires while Shabazz attempts to provoke others to do his dirty work for him. 

There’s no investigation of Shabazz for his attempts to incite violence — not even a public rebuke from the Justice Department or from any other authority figure. 

Nevertheless, Shabazz’s comments — like Farrakhan’s — have a damaging impact. As Jesse Lee Peterson, a conservative black reverend, said: “It’s these types of threats against white Americans and this country that is causing other white people to become angry and fed up.” 

That doesn’t mean there’s an excuse for actions like Roof’s. A perceived threat from someone like Shabazz no more justifies a violent response from white people than violence in the form of rioting and looting in black communities is justified in places like Baltimore or Ferguson. But what it means, and what Peterson was likely driving at is this: As long as there are attitudes like Shabazz’s in place, we will never see an end to racial tensions and racial strife in America. 

It isn’t just a white problem.

Distorted history?

Amid the countless history lessons that are being offered about the Confederate flag on Facebook and other social media networks, there seems to be a lot of distortion of the record regarding what the flag is all about and what it stands for.

These are my final thoughts on the subject (I’m hyper-active and already becoming bored with this topic). My complete thoughts from earlier are here, if you are so inclined. Just to reiterate some of those: The Confederate flag is about more than a symbol of racism and hatred. It is a symbol of heritage for many, and those folks should be free to display the flag reasonably. The states, nor the federal government, should waste any effort on attempting to censor that. On the other hand, the states should not be endorsing the Confederate flag. A flag that rebellious citizens used to march into battle against the United States of America should not fly at government buildings. That’s why I think it’s past time for South Carolina to remove the flag from its statehouse, but that debate should play out in its own time and on its own merit, not because a bunch of politicians want to have a knee-jerk reaction after one man acted criminally, evilly and criminally.

But as we’re offered these history lessons (and I’ve been offered a couple such lessons on a one-on-one basis since I posted the earlier post this afternoon), a few statements just keep jumping out at me — some of which I touched on earlier and some of which I didn’t. 

1.) It’s the Confederate battle flag, stupid, and it had nothing to do with slavery. Nothing!

It is the Confederate battle flag, though not necessarily the flag of the Northern Virginia Army, as has been posted so often on social media. That particular flag was indeed the first to adopt the cross and stars that is so common today, but it was square. The Confederate flags that fly today are the rectangular version that were adopted by other states as the Civil War progressed, including Tennessee. (It was actually first introduced as the second official Navy Jack of the Confederacy.)

But to determine whether that flag represented slavery, we must determine why the war was thought. The North initiated the war as a result of secession. Ultimately, though, that’s what the war was about: the South’s decision to secede. As I opined earlier, slavery was not the only issue involved in the southern states’ decision to secede, but it was very much a central issue. In fact, I think the argument can safely be made that if not for the South’s stubbornness on slavery, the war would have never happened at all. 

So, then, how can we possibly make the argument that the Confederate battle flag had nothing to do with slavery? It was a symbol of the South’s rebellion against the Union, the same as the three official flags of the Confederate States of America that were adopted as the turbulent period progressed. The Confederate battle flag had no more to do with slavery — but also no less — than any of those other flags. Bottom line, though? The Confederate battle flag was a symbolic representation of the South’s war effort, and slavery was an issue central to that war.

2.) The war wasn’t even about slavery. 

This one may seem to be the most obvious one, but there is a not insignificant number of people who legitimately believe that the Civil War was all about state’s rights, and nothing but. Clearly, state’s rights played a role. Kids, don’t let your history teacher tell you that the South didn’t have legitimate concerns about trampled rights. As I wrote earlier, a ragtag Confederate army fought tooth-and-claw with the Union for five long years, to the point that the entire future of this nation might have been altered if the Battle of Gettysburg had turned out differently, despite being ill-equipped and out-manned. You don’t get that kind of an effort out of that kind of army unless they’re fighting for a cause they deeply believe in, and many of the Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves or come from slave-owning families.

But slavery was absolutely the central issue to the war. The states made that very clear as they voted to leave the Union. The second state to secede, Mississippi, said this in its declaration of secession: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” The authors of that document went on to declare that slavery was “the greatest material interest of the world,” and said that a “blow to slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” 

When Texas seceded, it declared in its secession document that the states had been established “exclusively by the white race,” which was true. But the authors of the document added that the “African race” was “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” 

Still not convinced that secession wasn’t exclusively an issue of state’s rights? When South Carolina became the first state to secede, it actually quoted a New York state law which prohibited slaveowners from transporting their slaves into the state, which had by that time abolished slavery. Essentially, South Carolina’s leaders were making the argument that New York should not be allowed to adopt such a law.

3.) The Confederate flag has never had anything to do with racism.

As I argued earlier, the perversion of the Confederate flag or any other symbolism by racists either then (take your pick) or now (Dylann Roof) does not define that symbolism. But, clearly, the Confederate flag has traditionally been used by folks with ill will towards the black race. The Ku Klux Klan adopted the flag as its own as it unleashed terror against black people throughout the South in the late 1800s and again as racial tensions flared in the 1900s. Other groups did, as well.

But how about this? In 1956, Georgia adopted a new flag design that heavily incorporated the Confederate battle flag. The significance? The flag adoption came two years after Brown v. Board of Education, and was a direct response by Georgia to the Supreme Court’s decision that forced Southern states to stop segregating black students in public schools. 

Eight years earlier, the States’ Rights Party (think Strom Thurmond) adopted the Confederate battle flag as its own. Why? It was an act of protest against the new civil rights laws that were being enforced in the South. 

The now-infamous Confederate flag didn’t begin flying over the South Carolina capital until 1962 — when the civil rights turmoil was at its peak.

4.) The meaning of the flag’s design

This is perhaps the biggest distortion of all. Several stories floating around social media networks today claim that the 13 stars on the Confederate battle flag stood for the 13 original British colonies, each independently governed, before the northern states became too big for their britches and began trying to dominate the southern states. And the “X” design, the stories claim, are symbolism of the Confederate states’ desire for the Union to cross them out — or “X” them out — because they no longer wanted to be a part of the U.S. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. The original Confederate flag — the official one — contained seven stars in 1861, representing the seven states that had seceded from the Union. Within months, two more states had seceded and two more stars were added. A couple of months after that, two more stars were added. And, finally, once the secession count rose to 13, the final count of 13 stars appeared on the official flag. (Kentucky and Missouri weren’t recognized as a part of the Confederacy but they were nonetheless represented on the flag.) 

When William Porcher Miles design his flag that would become the flag of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, it contained the same stars representing the same thing — the states that had seceded from the Union. As for the cross, Miles himself wrote that it was intended to represent the Christian cross — but that it was turned on its side to avoid complaints from religious sects who would’ve protested. 

Of course, the distorted history works both ways.

As debate rages over the Confederate flag, it increasingly becomes a debate about what led to secession and the war in the first place. While Southerners defend the Confederacy, Northerners rush to tell us how backwards the Confederacy was. How many times have you heard that the Union’s war was a noble effort to end slavery? Not so much so. It was more of an effort to preserve the Union. In fact, slaves were still owned in the Union as the war progressed. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that slaves were freed in Southern states, but it did not address the issue of slavery in Northern states. Lincoln himself favored an end to the institution of slavery, but he hardly viewed blacks as equal. Lincoln made it clear that he considered the black race inferior to the white race, favoring segregation of the races and even at one point making a half-hearted proposal to ship freed blacks back to Africa.

Have you heard that racial discrimination through segregation was an idea that was patented by the South? Hardly. In California, for instance, Hispanics were lawfully segregated from whites until several years after World War II ended — and only a short time before segregation ended in the South. 

Or how about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate war hero from Tennessee who later became the face of the Ku Klux Klan? Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said today that, if it were up to him, he would remove the bust of Forrest from the state capital in Nashville. Because, as we all know, Forrest may have been a brilliant — if brutal — military leader, but he also advocated for the terrorization of freed black Americans through his role in the Klan. 

But do you know who uttered these words: 

“I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? . . . I came here to the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace . . . I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment.” 

Those were none other than the words of Forrest himself, to a crowd of black Southerners in 1875. It was a message of equality that was considered radical at the time, as Forrest distanced himself from the KKK and reached out to black Southerners. His remarks came after he was presented a bouquet of flowers by a black lady that was said to be a symbol of the blacks’ forgiveness of Forrest. 

Did you learn that in school? Probably not. And you certainly didn’t hear it today as Gov. Haslam proposed to remove Forrest’s bust. I’m not suggesting that the bust shouldn’t be removed; actually, I’m indifferent to the suggestion. I couldn’t care less one way or the other. But I can’t help wondering: are we proposing to remove the bust of an early Klan organizer who carried out atrocities against black Americans? Or the bust of one of the first white men who represented the once-defiant South’s efforts to preserve the institution of slavery but who had undergone a change of heart and was advocating to reconcile the two races? 

History, it seems, can be distorted in many different ways. Especially on the internet.