The truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.

December 17th, 2015

As interest grows in uncovering things about our past that have been buried, forgotten or ignored, those who would keep things the way they are call that exercise changing history.

It’s not changing history, it’s acknowledging it.

And that’s the truth.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, December 18, 2015, and in The Memphis News, December 19-25, 2015



Truth is the truth. It isn’t inconvenient, inconsistent or incomplete. It isn’t uncomfortable or unpleasant and certainly not untrue.

But what we’ve made of the truth is all of those things.

There’s a strange little corner park downtown that represents both our national and local manipulation of truth to create our civic mythology, carefully choosing from a palette of facts to paint favorable pictures meticulously avoiding the unfavorable, sculpting monuments to the myth in the hope that the weight of time and tradition will turn myth into truth.

The bus shelter on one side of the corner says “Columbus Park,” but the eponymous bronze statue of the explorer has been removed to Marquette Park in east Memphis, home to the annual Memphis Italian Festival. Columbus is credited with discovering America, which would come as a great surprise to the indigenous people already on the Caribbean island when he hit the beach, and to the Norse seamen who actually landed on what is now North America some 500 years before Chris, and to the other Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who we named this baby after. Yet we still close the post office and the banks on Columbus Day.

On the other side is a plaque noting that this was once the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s home, telling us when he was born and when he came to Memphis “where his business enterprises made him wealthy.” The Tennessee Historical Commission didn’t bother to note that primary among those “business enterprises” was the buying and selling of human beings. Nowhere on the plaque or on the corner is any reference to the marketing and warehousing of slaves that took place steps away on what is now a parking lot behind the little park.

Last week, a group of people as diverse as the city gathered in the park for an “Interfaith Prayer Service For Truth” asking that all of our history be told, that we share the pain of our past and the responsibility for our present and future so that healing can begin. They read the names of victims of lynching in Shelby County, the most in Tennessee, and asked that they not simply be remembered but the sites marked, the truth noted.

Rabbis, Imams, ministers, priests, pastors prayed with a flock of Memphis – men and women, black and white and rainbow, young and old. They all read together from the Jewish Midrash, “One who makes himself overly compassionate toward the cruel will end up being cruel to the compassionate.” From the Qur’an, “So follow not passion lest you lapse from truth,” and from the Psalms, “Truth springs up from the earth; justice looks down from heaven.” They all sang “Amazing Grace,” written by a slave ship captain who became an Anglican priest.

They all said the words of John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

And that strange little park found true meaning.

I’m a Memphian, and this is the season for truth.



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