Liles column


I studied the Carmack-Cooper shooting of Nov. 9, 1908, in a business law class while attending Middle Tennessee State University. If you have forgotten or never knew the events leading up to the shooting, let me give you a quick overview.

Edward W. Carmack was a former U.S. Senator and the editor of the leading newspaper in Nashville.  Carmack was shot to death in downtown Nashville by Robin J. Cooper, the son of Carmack’s former mentor and friend Col. Duncan Cooper. Duncan Cooper was a Confederate war hero and aide to Gov. Patterson.

A bullet fired from Carmack’s gun was intended for Duncan Cooper but hit his son, Robin. Robin Cooper fired three shots, all hit Carmack. The shootout by two of the most powerful men in Tennessee would be investigated, litigated, retried and studied for decades. Even today the story could be a bestselling detective novel.

Carmack was revered as a martyr for his campaign against the prohibition of liquor and the open saloon laws. Some people even believed that the shooting was a planned assassination. Many people in Tennessee and Washington expected Carmack would one day run for president.

The Tennessee General Assembly and the Carmack Memorial Association commissioned for a statue to be erected at a prominent location on the Capitol grounds. The statue was dedicated on June 6, 1925, by Cap. Guston T. Fitzhugh of Memphis. At the presentation speech Fitzhugh said “Carmack was a staunch supporter of law and order …. He knew that it is only within the law that there is any true freedom, that outside its pale all is darkness, danger and death.”

It is ironic that on May 30, 2020, a mob of law breakers would rip down this statue, a statue of a man that lived and died for the rule of law and is considered a martyr for the cause of the underrepresented.

The destruction of iconic symbols such as the Carmack statue is not surprising since there is an all-out assault on our culture, heritage and laws. The culture of the South has been labeled as racist, archaic, even simple minded, but to those of us raised in the South, both black and white, we knew it as a respectful and gentle way of living.

We were taught to answer an adult with, “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir.” It was a sign of respect and didn’t matter the race or gender of the person, they got the same respect. We opened doors for women, young and old. It is out of vogue now to use that salutation and young parents seldom extend that courtesy even to their own parents. So, it is understandable why some of the young people of today have little respect for our past.

Our nation was founded on free expression of speech, individual freedom and love for this great, but imperfect, country. It was not long ago that I could go to the national park next door and purchase a rebel flag or rebel hat with the crossbar insignia. Not anymore, it is now offensive.

I even have an African American friend that wore a rebel flag necklace. He didn’t know he was supposed to be offended by that flag. He had grown up in the South and he felt like many a young man, that he was rebel of spirit. He wore the flag not as a symbol of hate but a statement of individuality.

Now we are told that we must conform. We cannot say certain words. We cannot raise a number of flags. Statues of people who accomplished great things must be torn down. Statues that have been labeled offensive by any vocal group, no matter the legitimacy of the charge, must be relegated to a dark warehouse or if the group approves maybe a museum. The individualism that built this country is under assault.

This is not a time to tear down statues. It is a time to build new statues. The culture change advocates may not be appeased, but perhaps we can all come together and agree to stop tearing down and agree to build more statues recognizing people of contemporary accomplishments just as we have recognized the heroes of the past.

We can always use more heroes.

Mike J. Liles served as a county commissioner and state representative. He retired from the Tennessee Department of Labor in 2000 as Director of Tennessee OSHA. In 2012. He continues to serve the community as a volunteer in several organizations.

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