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Our Back Pages
brings you tidbits of Nashville history from near and far, chronologically speaking. This inaugural weekly edition features the 1930 travelogue of a Nashville rabbi in the heart of soon-to-be-Nazi Germany, one of Willy Stern's fine investigative reports for the Scene
from the 1990s, and the execution in Nashville of a Confederate hero, months after Appomattox.79 years ago: Encountering an ancient hatred
Rabbi Julius Mark of Nashville's Congregation Ohabai Sholom -- then
better known as the Vine Street Temple and now simply as The Temple --
recalled his recent visit to Germany in the Nashville Banner of Oct.
Mark had attended the Oberammergau Passion Play, held every 10 years
in a Bavarian town. There, three years before Hitler's rise to power,
he observed the modern population's enthusiasm for a narrative based on
a medieval image of the Jew as Christ-killer.
The experience no doubt chilled Mark, but he responded by sounding an
ecumenical note, saying he remained "incurably optimistic" about the
future of relations between Jews and Christians. Non-Jews just needed
to improve their understanding, he seemed to say:
People who view the spectacle seem to forget that all the figures
before them are Jews. To them Judas is the typical Jew and the rabble
thirsting for the blood are typical Jews, while Jesus is not considered
a Jew at all. For one thing he is not represented to look like a Jew,
as are Judas, Caiphas and others. As a matter of fact, Jesus was the
typical Jew. He was born a Jew, lived a Jew and died a Jew. He observed
Jewish forms and prayed in a Jewish synagogue on the seventh day
Sabbath. His teachings are all Jewish teachings, in line with the
teachings of the prophets who preceded and the rabbis who succeeded him.
As detailed in a 2007 NashvillePost.com story
, Mark was on his way to
an illustrious career by the time he published these observations.
During World War II, he would serve on the staff of Admiral Charles W.
Nimitz as Jewish chaplain to the Pacific fleet.
Leaving Nashville in
1948, he would become senior rabbi of Manhattan's Temple Emanu-El,
which was said to be the largest Jewish congregation in the world by
the 1960s. Upon his retirement from that post in 1968, New York
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller hailed Mark as a "tireless champion of
interracial peace and justice." 10 years ago: Unguarded moments
In a series launched in the Scene
's Oct. 21, 1999 issue, investigative
reporter Willy Stern trained his sights
on the thuggery of guards from
a local private-security firm called Detection Services. Stern documented the guards'
mistreatment of immigrant residents at the apartment complexes they
were supposed to be securing from crime, as well as the complicity of
Metro Police officers in the abuse:
It was a Saturday night in January 1999, and the clock had just struck
midnight. Seated around a table at a Denny's Restaurant, eight private
security guards smoked cigarettes, sipped coffee, munched on chicken
strips, and passed the time.
The guards worked for the company named Detection Services, and their
job was to act as night patrolmen for apartment buildings across
Nashville. But none felt like working, and the company's owner, Larry
Lawson, didn't care. He was seated at the table too. As long as the men
fudged their time sheets, the owners of the apartment buildings would
never know the difference.
But suddenly, Lawson declared: "I'm bored. Let's go down to taco city and fuck with the Mexicans."
Stern's series continued the following week
144 years ago: At the end of his rope
Arguments over what to call Champ Ferguson rage online to this day. Was
he a guerilla? An officer? A murderer? A martyr? A terrorist?
yard of Nashville's penitentiary (on Church Street, a little past where the Hustler Hollywood sits now), on Oct. 20, 1865, the
United States government had its final say. Ferguson mounted a
scaffold, spoke a few final words pleading that his body not be "cut
up" by medical students in surgical exercises, and was dispatched into
The Tennessee Encyclopedia
evenhandedly lays out the details of
Ferguson's remarkable career. After initially forming a band of
Rebel-sympathizing raiders in the wilds of White County, Tenn., he
became at least formally attached to a series of Confederate military
units while ranging across the Confederacy and into Union territory to
carry out attacks on troops and supply lines.
Ferguson was accused of crossing the line from irregular warfare to
cold-blooded murder several times, most notably after the Battle of
Saltville, Va., in October 1864. Confederate
him for slaughtering wounded African-American prisoners of war, though
he was later released.
He turned himself in to Union forces at war's end, expecting to be
covered by the general amnesty afforded to those who took an oath of
loyalty to the U.S.A. Instead, the feds put him on trial
military tribunal in Nashville. After three months of proceedings, he
was sentenced to hang.
On the scaffold, as the presiding officer read a list of the charges on
which he had been convicted -- 53 murders -- Ferguson spoke
I don't know some things in those specifications. But I don't deny anything I ever done.
Ferguson's wife and 16-year-old daughter watched as the hanging was carried out, then took his body back to the family farm near Sparta.
Champ Ferguson was one of a very few Confederate officers ever tried
and executed by the U.S. government. Henry Wirz
, the notorious
commandant of the Confederate prison at Andersonville, was hanged a few
weeks later for war crimes.
One of the others was John Yates Beall
-- the beau of Nashville belle
Martha O'Bryan) -- who went to the gallows in
February 1865 after he was caught trying to derail a civilian train in
upstate New York.