Good afternoon to all except folks who still stan a slaver,

We’re two weeks from Juneteenth, which has been a holiday for the MLK50 team well before it was hip to do so.

And in Memphis, this year’s Juneteenth celebration will occur in a park once dedicated to a slaver, as work continues there to unearth the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest – also a Confederate general and early KKK leader – and his wife. 

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who spearheaded the 2017 #TakeEmDown901 movement to relieve this majority-Black city of its Confederate statues, has been flooded with profane and violent threats from Forrest’s admirers, who remain true to the Confederacy’s essence:  Enduring violence against Black bodies.

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer speaks with media while George Johnson shouts obscenities and threats at her as work continues to disassemble a monument and exhume the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park in Memphis for relocation to a museum in Columbia, Tennessee. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

Reporter Carrington Tatum wrote about it here, but what stands out to me was the violence that’s followed Sawyer, who led the 2017 grassroots campaign that led to the removal of Forrest’s equestrian statue from what had been an eponymous city park. 

At a press conference at the park Tuesday, one of Forrest’s fans paraded behind her, waving a miniature Confederate flag, singing “Dixie” and calling her a “communist piece of shit.”

“My life has been in danger for four years,”  Sawyer said to the media gathered. “I’ve got to drive home by myself. Remember that. They know my address, they know my phone number, they know where I work.”

I know what that’s like. While I was a columnist at The Commercial Appeal, the majority of the death threats I received – one of which was mailed to my home – were in response to pieces I’d written about Gen. Forrest. The lone rape threat I received was in response to this piece about the granite marker.

I haven’t worked at the daily paper in nearly seven years, but to this day, I make careful note of the cars behind me as I drive home. If we make the same two turns, I pull over, cut off my lights and wait for them to pass.

The energy that Tami and countless other brave women of color spend on hyper-vigilance could be better spent dismantling white supremacy or in pursuit of the Black liberation that Juneteenth is supposed to represent.

I’m reminded of the wisdom of the late Toni Morrison, who said: “The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.”

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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