Welcome to Nathan Bedford’s Tennessee

Nelly Rivera and her husband moved to Tennessee from Florida roughly four months ago, in part to escape the threat of hurricanes. Little did they know her presence at a local library would set off an altogether different type of storm. Nelly, an American citizen of Puerto Rican descent, landed a part time position as a Library Assistant at the Marshall County Memorial Library in Lewisburg, Tn. Before her arrival there, Spanish speaking residents and visitors looking for reading or reference material had a handful of books and periodicals to choose from, but there was no one at the Library that actually spoke any Spanish. A handpainted sign that said simply “Espanol” sat on a shelf adjacent to those few books. Nelly, because she is fluent is two languages, and because she is a friendly, helpful person, started helping those who did not speak English by teaching them how to use computers, and started offering children’s book readings in Spanish. Apparently, this did not sit well with several Lewisburg citizens. At least one, Jeanie Morris, expressed her displeasure loudly enough that last night, she was invited to address the monthly meeting of the Library’s Board. The meeting was held in a classroom like area just off the main floor of the Library, and was attended by approx 20 people. Channel 2 news sent a reporter, as did the Nashville Scene. The entire Board was present, local citizens who do the often thankless job of overseeing a critical part of the community, and do so without pay. Jeanie Morris, however, did not see fit to show up and make her case. Instead, one local citizen named Robin Minor decided to vent his frustration to the assembled group. He started his tirade by informing the Board that he was a lifelong resident of Lewisburg, and that he was angry that his tax dollars were being used to provide materials in Spanish at the library. When informed by the Board Chairman that the bulk of the materials had been donated by local citizens, he demanded to know exactly how much money had been spent by the Library for books in Spanish. The answer? 130 dollars. Total. He then proclaimed that even a penny was too much, and accused the Board and the library of being enablers. The Board Chairman, John Rowe, further informed Mr. Minor that the library also had books written in French, Russian, Gaelic, and Japanese. Mr. Minor then demanded that the Board require all donated books be written in English only. The Board, clearly embarrassed for this man, thanked him for his input and moved on to New Business, as they had a full agenda that night. As we all left the room, I noticed a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate officer widely believed to have ordered the massacre of a largely black garrison after capturing them at Fort Pillow, and who was among the founding members of the Klu Klux Klan.
Days before this meeting, prompted by telephone calls from outraged local citizens, the County Mayor, Joe Liggett, paid a visit to the library, and, (apparently unfamiliar with the I-9 form) nervously asked the library Director “what papers do you guys have for her?” (meaning Mrs. Rivera) Nelly overheard this, and promptly produced a copy of her birth certificate, which clearly indicates that she was born in New Jersey. Mr. Liggett was not present at this meeting.
This sad incident makes me wonder how many other brown skinned citizens are made to feel unwelcome here in Tennessee. The amount of local Governments proposing ridiculous ordinances to punish the undocumented in their communities is proof to me that the rhetoric of Hate Radio is obviously winning out, in fact, Mr. Minor, disgruntled by his quick dismissal by the Board, shouted out in the parking lot to his handful of friends that they should all call the radio stations in the morning. (It should be noted that Mr. Minor was formerly a social studies teacher in Lewisburg schools) That should give you the shivers.

1 Comment

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One response to “Welcome to Nathan Bedford’s Tennessee

  1. Really nice site you have here. I’ve been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work

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