Past And Present.

Source: Nashville Scene

The Nashville Scene is featuring three paintings of George Floyd. They’re really extraordinary, at least in pictures, and I wonder how long they’ll be up. Hopefully they’ll be around long enough for me to see them in person. I’m not leaving the house much these days, and even when I do it’s only for short trips for necessities, and while I do think art, especially seeing art in person, is a necessity, it’s not one I can justify right now.

That got me thinking about George Floyd and how, as far as I know, he never came to Nashville. He did spend much of his life in the south—he was born in North Carolina, and lived in Texas before moving to Minneapolis in 2014. And his murder, as we know, sparked outrage around the world, and has intensified discussions of race and history in the United States. Some say “prompted” but, really, race has been an issue here even before the United States was a country.

The public portraits, painted by local artists Wayne Brezinka (whose painting is available as a free download), Paul Collins, and Ashley Doggett, are a visual reminder of what will hopefully be a continuing conversation. George Floyd didn’t ask to be a martyr, and he is, unfortunately, one of far too many who deserve to be remembered. Many of their names are included in Wayne Brezinka’s portrait.

I thought too about the civil rights leader John Lewis, whose recent passing comes at such a difficult time. Lewis’s own life is another reminder of just how long and difficult that conversation has been. He lived in Nashville and was a student and activist here before he’d lead the famous march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama on March 7th, 1965, which we now know as Bloody Sunday. Lewis was attacked for asking for the right to vote, a right that’s supposed to be granted freely to every citizen.

The bridge Lewis crossed, which was built in 1940, is named for a Confederate brigadier general and Ku Klux Klan leader. There have been calls to rename the bridge for years, and it would be more than fitting to rename it after Congressman Lewis who not only crossed it but worked so hard to build metaphorical bridges between people throughout his lifetime.

The bridge’s current namesake is part of a very powerful recent essay by another Nashville native, Caroline Randall Williams. You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is A Confederate Monument is a powerful statement about history and its influence on the present. Despite claims to the contrary changing the name of a bridge, or a military base, won’t erase the past. We can’t change the past either. We can, however, change how we let the past inform the present.

Here’s Williams reading her essay.

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8 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    Thank you for your symbols of love, Chris, past, present and future.
    Ann Koplow recently posted…Day 2799: The principal ingredientMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I love the fact that your comments, made in the mast, make me look forward to the future.

      Reply
  2. Tom Cummings

    You just gave me more information than a dozen articles. Thank you, Chris!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Wow, I hoped to be able to share some information and some perspective, and I’m really glad you got that much out of it.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    This is excellent, especially the last line. We’re currently undergoing the same thing here, regarding monuments to the architects of the Residential School System responsible for destroying the lives of so many Indigenous people. Do we really need a statue of a guy who openly said he wanted to commit genocide on native Canadians? I don’t think so.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Something else I thought of was that we need to remember the past but not necessarily to honour it.

      Reply
  4. Arionis

    I usually don’t comment on subjects such as these for fear of losing friends. I feel though that you are a guy who respects all opinions whether you agree with them or not. Against my better judgement I am going to speak to these matters.

    As usual I am riding the fence on these issues. What that usually results in, is being ostracized by both sides. Let me start off by saying the death of George Floyd is an outrage and an example of police abuse in the most horrific way! The officers involved deserve to go to jail for the rest of their lives. With that being said, do I believe George Floyd should be honored as a man by paintings such as you’ve shown here? No I do not. The man’s death was a wake up call about police abuse and started many discussions that needed to be had. The man himself is a career criminal who’s been in jail eight times for things such as robbery and home invasions. So no, I don’t think the man should be honored. I think the memory of his death should be honored.

    Now, let’s get to the subject of Confederate symbols such as flags and statues. I grew up in the south and I was never taught that the south was right in a war fought over slavery. Sure, there are morons that try to justify that war by coming up with ridiculous alternate reasons it was fought. That’s pathetic. The south obviously went to war to keep their slaves and I am so very glad they lost. Does a Confederate flag belong on any government property? No it does not. No matter what some idiots might say about how the flag isn’t really a symbol for a war fought over slavery, it absolutely is. The Nazi flag with the bent cross was used by a religious sect before Hitler adopted it for his own. But does anyone see anything but horror when they look at a Nazi flag now? It’s no different with the Confederate Flag. It totally represents the people who wanted to keep slaves and certainly has no place among a state flag or anything else that is official government. With that being said, an individual who has the freedom of speech given to us by the first amendment absolutely has the right to fly it on his own property. I certainly wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t be friends with anyone who did, but they have that right.

    Now let’s talk about monuments. I believe any monument that glorifies the south’s position in the Civil War should be removed. Not torn down by a mob, removed. However, let me get your opinion on a recent trip I made. As you know we are living the RV Life now. I took advantage of that life by coming back to my hometown of Marshall, TX. While I was driving around the old town reminiscing I came across a Confederate statue at the old courthouse that is now a museum. I was interested in exactly what it was a monument for, so I walked up to read the wording. The monument shows a random soldier and paraphrasing the wording, it basically honors all the soldiers that were killed in the most bloodiest war in our country’s history? Do you think that a monument such as this should be torn down? Food for thought.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I really appreciate your thoughtfulness here and let me say up front that you haven’t lost me. You’re certainly not going to be ostracized by me. I don’t think you’ve said anything unreasonable, and you’ve even made some excellent points. George Floyd was by no means innocent, and perhaps instead of highlighting those paintings of him I should have focused on John Lewis and his legacy, which I really wanted to emphasize more than anything else. George Floyd’s murder became a flash point but he himself is not the best representative of the kind of change we need, or that people are asking for, although something we should also keep in mind is that everyone, regardless of their past, is still guaranteed a right to trial–a point you made as well.
      Something interesting I find is that I was also raised in the South and I grew up with people who tried to justify the South’s role in the Civil War–people one or two generations older than me who even tried to glorify it, pushing the “lost cause” myth. I think they were embarrassed by the reality and couldn’t admit to what they were part of.
      Having said that I really like that monument you saw in Marshall, TX. I believe, on an individual level, there were soldiers on both sides in the Civil War who did good and bad things, regardless of the cause they were fighting for, and public monuments do serve a purpose in reminding us of both the good and bad of the past.

      Reply

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