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Front Page - Friday, March 20, 2020

Rogers column: Davy or Andy? Who is greatest Tennessean?




David Crockett, aka Davy: Great Tennessean or greatest Tennessean? Hold your fire, Andrew Jackson fans. I’ll explain later.

First: Efforts to place a statue of Crockett on the prime spot of the Capitol grounds are making progress in the Tennessee legislature. The House bill that would do so, sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, is paired with a Senate bill by Sen. Steve Southerland.

The proposed location is above the entrance to the Motlow Tunnel on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Basically, the front yard of the Capitol.

“It’s going to be the first thing that individuals see,” Hawk told members of the State Committee recently.

One slight kink is there is already a statue on the spot, of Edward Ward Carmack, a newspaper editor, congressman, senator and strident prohibitionist who was shot dead by the son of a political enemy in 1908.

Hawk says there are plenty of other suitable landing spots on the grounds for a displaced memorial.

“Carmack will still definitely have a prominent place on the Capitol, just not the most prominent place,” he says.

What went unmentioned during the committee’s consideration, and that of a previous committee, was the fact that in addition to his anti-alcohol passions, Carmack was also a virulent racist.

A 1999 guest column in The Tennessean arguing for the statue’s removal states Carmack had this to say on race relations in 1888:

“In the struggle for supremacy, the Negro cannot compete with the Anglo-Saxon, and it will be well for him if he does not try.”

Believe me, those were among Carmack’s more temperate words on the topic.

Contrast his suitability for commemoration with that of Crockett, for whom the legislature spared few compliments when creating the David Crockett Commission in 2012, with the goal of raising money for a Capitol statue.

A Creek Indian Wars volunteer, magistrate and council member for Lawrenceburg, state representative and congressman, Crockett, the measure stated, “is revered as a pioneer, frontiersman, public servant, statesman, backwoods orator and, most of all, a man of the people, and he will always be remembered as an heroic participant in the Battle of the Alamo, in which he made the ultimate sacrifice of his life to preserve the independence of the Republic of Texas.”

It goes on: “Because of his iconic stature throughout the world and his varied and productive life that has come to personify the Volunteer State, it is most appropriate that David Crockett should be memorialized by his home state, the great State of Tennessee.”

The bill does not even mention the fact that a Disney-produced portrayal of Crockett by the actor Fess Parker in the 1950s had a generation of boys wearing coonskin caps. With a theme song that is perhaps now reverberating in your head.

Did you know there are 20 verses, including this one?

He went off to Congress an’ served a spell

Fixin’ up the Governments an’ laws as well

Took over Washin’ton so we heered tell

An’ patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell

Davy, Davy Crockett, seein’ his duty clear

All verses

As for Old Hickory…

I won’t debate that, by virtue of Jackson’s status as a hero of the War of 1812 and later president, he outranks Crockett in terms of national merit. Even with the stain of the Trail of Tears attached to his legacy, he typically finishes in the Top 20 of chief executives.

In fact, I’ve twice in columns defended him against efforts to replace his likeness on the $20 bill (www.gulflive.com/news/2015/04/post_3.html, www.al.com/opinion/2016/05/joe_rogers_keep_andrew_jackson.html). The move seems to have faded of late, no doubt due to my influence.

But here’s the thing: I’m defining “Tennessean” as someone born here. A true native son or, as the case may be, native daughter. Andrew Jackson, who entered this world before there was a Tennessee or any other state, was a native of what came to be South Carolina.

Tennessee’s two other presidents, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson, were both born in North Carolina. Johnson has a statue on the State Capitol grounds, as does Jackson. And Polk is buried there.

In discussion of Hawk’s bill, another committee member, Rep. Jay D. Reedy, noted that the State Capitol in Austin features a prominent portrait of Crockett.

“I’d hate to think Texas thinks more of Davy Crockett than we do,” Reedy said.

Hawk saw the opportunity to play on that theme, and he seized it.

“This is a way to bring Davy home,” he said. “Texas has taken him, and we need to take him back.”

Link to the Crockett statue bills

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com