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“Why Chattanooga?” people have been asking upon hearing the news that a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement, is coming to town and holding a rally on April 26, ostensibly to protest illegal immigration, but actually to give themselves another opportunity to dress up and posture in front of the media.
• According to the “Hate Map” recently released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tennessee has 37 groups the SPLC identifies as hate groups. Chattanooga itself has two, neither of which deserves to be identified in print.
• The Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tenn. in 1885.
• And, if you are someone who “thinks” like these individuals, Chattanooga’s much-touted Volkswagen plant very likely symbolizes a link with Adolf Hitler, who gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to create a “people’s car,” eventually resulting in the original version of the Beetle.
Ignore rather than confront them, says the SPLC. Don’t give them what they want, which is free national publicity for their bigotry and ignorance. Good advice. But sticking our fingers in our ears and humming loudly while people proclaim there was no Holocaust and that black people should go back to Africa (oh, and let’s not forget “Mexicans” back to Mexico and by the way, gay people, back in the closet and women, back in the kitchen) simply says, “We just don’t want to have to deal with you.”
Luckily, their days are numbered. In my view, cartoonish groups such as the one arriving on the city’s doorstep soon are dinosaurs. I mean, “Master Race”? Have you seen these guys, and the other members of these groups? It’s laughable.
Even more luckily,we have the best response of all. And we’re already engaged in it.
Take last Sunday night at Barking Legs Theater. As part of the ongoing Jazzanooga festival, a roomful of people got together for “Gospel Meets Jazz.” And when I say people, I mean people of all ages, both black and white. We were all there to hear the Chattanooga Gospel Orchestra, made up of volunteer musicians, along with stellar gospel singer Jeneal Johnson.
Now, the CGO, directed by Danny Sample, happens to include local legend Booker T. Scruggs II, who besides being a fabulous saxophonist/clarinetist, is also one of the 12 honor students of Howard High School’s class of 1960 who participated in Chattanooga’s lunch counter sit-ins. Mr. Scruggs has gone on to a prestigious career that includes teaching at UTC—a university that at the time he was a child, did not admit black students.
The CGO also includes Erskine Peoples, who, after arriving late that night to a warm round of applause, proceeded to give us a killer trumpet solo—after reminding us that he is 82. Think about what this talented man has seen in his 82 years. The world has changed, and for the better.
And as I gazed around a room filled with just plain people clapping and tapping their feet to the commingling of two the most American music genres, it was pretty damn clear why we don’t really need to worry too much about the group coming to town.
They are the past, even if they fail to realize it. The future, made possible by the heroism of the past, is already here, manifested in that room.