All of a sudden, we're getting into Rip Van Winkle territory. But the familiar universe doesn't require a full 20 years, any longer, to be unrecognizable. Last year at this time, we here in Memphis knew that Nathan Bedford
Forrest was developing into a persona non grata — at least with a major part of our population. The name "Forrest Park" had already given way to the unoffending and somewhat antiseptic moniker, "Health Sciences Park." But, a year ago, nobody was threatening to move the Confederate general's statue or transfer his grave back to Elmwood Cemetery. Now both goals are established parts of the political agenda.
And it wasn't long ago that we were reading articles celebrating the positive moral influence of comedian Bill Cosby on minority youth, and touting his then forthcoming revival tour as a wholesome experience for family audiences. Now, the man is in utter disgrace as an alleged serial rapist, unable to show himself in public for fear of derision — or encountering another process server.
And, hey, you local Democrats who look forward to buzzing up to Nashville for the next ceremonial Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, be aware that by the time you get there, the names are likely to have been changed to reflect society's suddenly unforgiving attitudes. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, is lately fallen from favor, due to his status as a slave-owner. And Andrew Jackson? He's lucky that it was Alexander Hamilton, and not himself, that was recently bumped off his spot on a currency note. Not only was Jackson a slave-owner, he was guilty of massacres of native Americans in Florida and of "ethnically cleansing" that territory for the sake of white folks wanting to move in. Democratic parties in Connecticut, Missouri, and Georgia have already purged the two names from the title spot for their annual banquets. And Tennessee state Democratic chair Mary Mancini has just sent out an email to party cadres informing them, via an official missive titled "The Legacy of Andrew Jackson," that the Tennessean whose Hermitage mansion is still a much-visited tourist site may be about to lose his lease as a state hero.
Here's Mancini's clincher: "In 2015, we may very well decide to name our annual event after someone who better exemplifies who we are today. We may not. But either way, let's not shy away from the conversation."
Forrest, Jefferson, Jackson, and Dr. Huxtable! All gone from the icon list. Who's next? George Washington?
The bottom line is that, in an age when social media have opened up everybody's closets for inspection, nobody gets away with anything. Not even historical figures. We don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. But it's a thing, and we'd better get used to it.