Roy Exum: Berke Defies Federal Law

Friday, August 25, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Almost 50 years ago I was so moved by a simple poem that I immediately learned it by heart, which is where it has rested quite comfortably my entire writing career. A football coach, Lou Holtz, used it in a speech and I believe it has served me well for half a century.

I saw some men in my hometown,
Some who were tearing a building down.
With a heave and a ho and a mighty yell,
They swung a beam and a side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, ’Are these men skilled,
Are these the type you would have to build?”
He laughed and said, ‘No, oh no indeed…
A common laborer is all I need.
For I can tear down in a day or two,
What it took a skilled artist ten years to do.”

With that, around 1828, the white men began trading stuff with the Indians down where St. Elmo is today. In the same year gold was discovered in Dahlonega, Ga., and as people moved to the South, they were thrilled the Cherokee Indians were so warm and kind. The Chief of the Cherokees was John Ross, thus where we live today was at first called Ross’ Landing.

In the next ten years there were a whole lot more white people who came, so much so that the federal government decided the “warm and kind” Indians should be removed. You know, kind of like removing a 100-year-old monument. Nobody will care. Few will remember.

It was on the unconscionable “Trail of Tears” that nearly half of the 16,543 Indians “removed” to Oklahoma died on the way. They were herded like cattle and John’s wife, Quati, was among those who perished. This is where the popular line was born: “If the government tells you they are here to help, ask an Indian.”

With the Indians driven off, things took a quick turn. In 1936 John Ponfret Long moved to Ross’ Landing from Knoxville (yes, by carefully-plotted happenstance) and in just the next year became the first and the last postmaster of Ross’ Landing. That’s because in 1838 the townspeople didn’t want the area to be named for some mixed-breed Indian (Ross was one-eighth Indian) and Capt. Long changed the name to ‘Chattanooga.’

Yes, the decision to ditch Ross back then was blatantly racial but that was then, this is now. Forget the Indians? None of us ever will, nor in the distance of my life will I forget how a twisted group of haters is intent on using racism to erase the terrible-but-critical period of time in the growth of a great county.

We remember the ‘Trail of Tears’ every year in the spirit of ‘Never again.’ It was wrong, vile, and disgusting. But it was naught compared to the Civil War carnage where we killed over 600,000 of each other.  Now thugs, criminals and ‘activists’ are being paid to sully the Confederate army? Life is a stage and the actors in the ongoing statue carnage are worse than the ‘Trail of Tears’ sadists who drove the Indians. When it is all played out, you’ll see.

The reason I tell this story is because I visited John P. Long’s grave earlier this week. He was Chattanooga’s first postmaster, too, and became a leading merchant and citizen in Chattanooga before he died in 1889 at the age of 82. He is buried in the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery, which is snuggled up to the northern border of the UTC campus

There is a lot that will catch your eye at the Chattanooga Confederate Cemetery. Some years ago a craftsman with a chisel etched these words into stone. “Peace be to the ashes of our Confederate dead and honor to their memory.” Next to it is another monument that says simply, “Negro Man.” Back then decent people buried decent people who had nobody else.

Obviously they didn’t know his name or some others because “Hospital Matron” is all another stone reads. The cemetery oozes with history, valor, bravery, and those who have gone before to give each of us the gift of today. It’s that simple, believe me.

Anyone who dares think the cemetery is an abomination to race or preference to one single American should go and look. It is most certainly not. Further, when Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke issued an opportunistic press release last week that he and city attorney Wade Hinton (his heir apparent) hoped would capitalize on no more than a sick effort to “tear down what it took skilled artists years to build,” both are shirking their sworn duties. Such blatant disregard is inexcusable but, as Chattanooga’s few voters will attest, lions do not lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.

Who would have ever guessed the nooses of the self-appointed righteous left-of-center would ever reach City Hall or that the misguided Andy Berke would openly join the riffraff so wanton and eager to violate federal law?

To wit, in 1958 a federal law was passed that made all Union and Confederate soldier “War Veterans of the United States.” Andy Berke can crab all he wants but I would love to hear a court brief on this U.S. Public Law 85-425: Sec. 410 Approved 23 May 1958:

(US Statutes at Large Volume 72, Part 1, Page 133-134)50-3-9. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to mutilate, deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously the flag of the United States, the flag, coat of arms, or emblem of the State of (any Confederate State), or the flag or emblem of the Confederate States of America by any act whatever.

For Chattanooga’s mayor to desecrate our dead by publicly turning his back on – yes, America’s dead – is not the answer. That is not what the great majority of Andy’s constituents or Wade’s closest friends would ever want. We should forever honor the lives of those who have gone before. And to abandon the Confederate Cemetery and United States war veterans is to spit on an unknown graves.

This is against federal law. Bring in the Justice Department. I am serious. We have no right to change history. Ask an Indian.

At the conclusion of the Spanish American War on December 14, 1898, then-President William McKinley gave a speech on the reconciliation between the North and the South. (A good number of former Confederate officers had volunteered for service during the war, which had helped secure U.S. victory) McKinley said:

“Every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate Civil War is a tribute to American valor. And while, when those graves were made, we differed widely about the future of this government, those differences were long ago settled by the arbitrament of arms; and the time has now come, in the evolution of sentiment and feeling under the providence of God, when in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers.

“The Cordial feeling now happily existing between the North and South prompts this gracious act, and if it needed further justification, it is found in the gallant loyalty to the Union and the flag so conspicuously shown in the year just past by the sons and grandsons of these (Spanish American War veterans).

“What a glorious future awaits us if united, wisely, and bravely we face the new problems now pressing upon us, determined to solve them for right and humanity.

“That flag has been planted in two hemispheres, and there it remains the symbol of liberty and law, of peace and progress. Who will withdraw from the people over whom it floats its protecting folds? Who will haul it down? Answer me, ye men of the South, who is there in Dixie who will haul it down?”

*  * *

Andy Berke and Wade Hinton are part of a reflex-driven mob scene being played out all across America. The people of Chattanooga – where Capt. Long gave us the name – will not join Andy Berke or Wade Hinton in turning their back on an American veteran.

But we are united in one thing – how did we ever get to here?

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