A controversial TV ad for congressional hopeful Nikki Tinker was denounced Saturday as "an effort to divide the community racially" by an impressive gathering of African American supporters of her Democratic primary opponent, incumbent 9th District congressman Steve Cohen.
The ad, which has run at scattered intervals on local television, beginning Friday, focuses on a vote some years ago by Cohen, while a member of the Center City Commission, against a proposal by lawyer and former county commissioner Walter Bailey to excavate and remove the body of the late Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from Forrest Park.
As Cohen explained Saturday, he argued at the time that the Center City Commission was the improper venue for such a proposal, which, to be implemented, would require action by the city council and mayor. In the event, support for the proposal was forthcoming from neither.
The congressman, author of a resolution apologizing for slavery that has received worldwide attention since its passage by the U.S. House of Representatives this past week, acknowledged, too, that he didn't favor the removal of Forrest's remains as the best way of redressing the past.
Among the things that stuck in the craw of Cohen's supporters, including several prominent ministers and public officials, was the ad's juxtaposition of Cohen's image next to those of Ku Klux Klansmen.
"For this ad to come up at the last minute is an attempt to divide this community racially. And this community isn't going to be divided. We're all in favor of our congressman, Steve Cohen," said Myron Lowery, the longtime city councilman who, at the time off the most recent Forrest Park controversy, floated a compromise proposal for adding anti-slavery exhibits to the grounds of Forrest Park.
Cohen has "focused on the issues," said Lowery. "He has not attempted to divide this community racially. He has always brought this community together." That's why the group was supporting Cohen and denouncing the "racial politics" of the Tinker ad, Lowery said.
The congressman himself did not participate directly in the meeting Saturday, which was convened at Cohen campaign headquarters on Union Avenue by the Rev. Ralph White of Bloomfield Baptist Church. White got some of the most animated response among those speaking when he said, "There are two kinds of people, those who have something to say, and those who have to say something. "
Elaborating on the theme, expressed by several attendees, that Tinker had been less than forthcoming on issues, White compared Cohen's campaign to his opponent's this way: "It's not apples to oranges. It's apples to nothing."
"The people of the 9th Congressional District are intelligent. They
will not fall for these kinds of tactics," said White, who had been one of
Cohen's opponents for the congressional seat in 2006. "Steve Cohen has been an
awesome congressman. And we're going to support him, and I think the rest of
the 9th congressional district will."
Among the others participating in the press conference denouncing the Tinker ad and supporting Cohen were by city councilman Edmund Ford, Jr., former Shelby County Commissioner Minerva Johnican, Frayser activist Antonio "2 Shay" Parkinson, Dr. Melvin Wade, Rev. John Ragland, Rev. James Kendricks, Rev. H. O. Kneeland, Rev. Darryl McDonald, Terry Walls, Michael Carper, Beanie Self, and Travis Jenkins.