Roy Exum: What About Hooker Street?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For a number of years I lived in a house on Lookout Mountain that was located on a pretty, tree-shaded road named Hooker Street. Every time I would give someone my address, it would result in raised eyebrows, or a giggle, or often some cute comment. Even the telephone company got in on the merriment. I had asked for an easy-to-remember number and, when the lady called to tell me my new number, the last four digits were 5-6-7-8.

I thought that was pretty nifty until she stifled a laugh and told me that if I would look at the corresponding letters on the dial pad, I would read L-O-S-T. “Don’t you get it? Lost on Hooker Street!” Yes, ma’am, that’s real funny. Fits like a glove.

The reason I bring it up is because the street was named for a Yankee general who fought the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Fightin’ Joe Hooker.

Joe was evermore a dandy, often holding big parties and drinking whiskey around the camp fire. The girls who tagged along with his officers were called, of all things, “Hooker’s” Yes, they sort of belonged to Joe and, yes, that’s where the ageless nickname now recognized the world over originated but – no! – my house was not involved at all.

What you need to know is that this week the Tennessee State Legislature is considering a bill called the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act that will make it tougher to change or move memorials to our nation’s past heroes. “I just want to preserve our history,” state Rep. Steve McDaniel, (R-Parkers Crossroads) said recently, explaining why he sponsored the legislation. “History is history and should be left there.”

That’s close … but no cigar. What has really happened is that the city fathers in Memphis have just renamed three city parks. The City Council voted last week to yank Nathan Bedford Forrest's name from the downtown park and call it Health Sciences Park. It also voted to rename Confederate Park as Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park as Mississippi River Park.

You see, it is a slavery thing – Nathan Bedford Forrest, for example, was a brilliant cavalry officer in the Confederate Army, rising from private to general. He was quite wealthy when he enlisted, earning his money as a planter, a real estate tycoon and – hello -- a slave trader. Some believe “The Wizard of the Saddle,” as he was respectfully called, even founded and became the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

So as America readies for the 150th anniversary of The War Between The States, there are those who are upset and angered by our “political correctness,” so much so that the modern-day Ku Klux Klan has applied for a city permit to protest the city council’s actions on March 30. The bill in the legislature is far more subtle. The bill’s sponsors hope to put an end to the controversies that have occurred over the years involving parks, buildings, statues and other commemorations of wars past. In today’s modern thinking, some folks think the Civil War was about slavery.

A spokesman for The Exalted Cyclops of the Loyal White Knights said Wednesday he met with Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, who “acted like he didn’t want to approve” a permit. Edward Beasley told Memphis reporters, “They patted me down,” he said, and also claimed that the police leader said to him “‘I have better things to be doing with my time.’ He didn’t like me because I was white,” Beasley asserted, “and I was right.”

After being informed security for such a protest would cost the city $150,000, Beasley felt the permit would be turned down and said the Loyal White Knights would not only sue but ask the ACLU to help protect the group’s civil liberties.

In the meanwhile, State Rep. Johnny Shaw, (D-Bolivar) said he supported the bill in committee but may not vote for it on the floor. “I think we need to pass on our heritage even if it wasn’t good,” said Shaw, who is black. “It helps me explain things to my children and grandchildren. ... But I don’t want to tie the local folks’ hands.”

There are other streets on Lookout Mountain named for Civil War soldiers, too. For example, the Presbyterian Church is located at 316 North Bragg Avenue. While the street number is admittedly pretty catchy, the road is in honor of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, whose name also graces the big Army base in North Carolina.

Should the Tennessee Heritage Protection Bill become official, it would likely protect tributes from other times as well. For example, in Chattanooga Coolidge Park is named for Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge and a parkway celebrates another Medal of Honor recipient, Paul Huff, in Cleveland.

Personally, I think like Rep. Shaw – history teaches us the good and bad. Right now there is a move underfoot to combine history and geography in our schools – allegedly to make more room for science and math – and I think that’s a mistake. Without history we won’t know why we are going somewhere and without geography we won’t know how to get there.

So after decades of college boys have stolen the street signs from Hooker Street almost the minute they are replaced, let me just say that you should take the first hard left after you pass the Incline station and then an immediate right will put you right smack dab on Hooker Street.

royexum@aol.com


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