|Aisha Raison marvels over a Confederate battle scene created by artist Ronald C.|
Herd II in mixed media. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Interpreting the Fort Pillow Massacre with art
“If you don’t tell their story, the ancestors get no glory,” said Ronald C. Herd II, expounding on the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864, the year Fort Pillow, a Union garrison in Henning, Tennessee, fell to Confederate troops.
Fort Pillow wasn’t the only casualty during the Civil War. That year on April 12, nearly 300 Union prisoners were shot to death. Most of them were black soldiers, said Herd, an artist, musician and activist speaking to a small group at Art Village Gallery in Downtown Memphis.
“Nathan (Bedford Forrest) gave the order even though he wasn’t there,” said Herd, holding the Confederate general, slave trader and reportedly the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan culpable.
The art gallery was the destination for some observers and a pit stop for others who sauntered in on March 31 to view a collection of paintings, drawings and other media based on the artists’ interpretation of the massacre.
The exhibit will run until April 14. The contributing artists are Darlene Newman, Frank D. Robinson, Carl E. Moore, Roy Hawkins Jr., Marion Joyner-Wilson, Iris Love Scott, Sr. Walt, and Ronald Herd, the exhibit organizer.
“Using Our Art to Tell Our Stories: Remembering Fort Pillow” is the title of the art exhibit, which kicked off the Fort Pillow Massacre Commemorative Project honoring the black soldiers and civilians who died on that fateful day.
The project commenced last year on April 12 when the Memphis Area Branch of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) held a wreath laying ceremony to honor the fallen soldiers.
A memorial service will be held on April 11 this year at Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, the church that the late Dr. W. Herbert Brewster, a composer, poet, lyrist and dramatist, pastored when it was named East Trigg Baptist Church.
On April 12, at 10 a.m., a national wreath laying ceremony will be held at the Memphis National Cemetery at 3568 Townes Ave., where the soldiers were buried in 1867. ASALH again is organizing this ceremony along with W.E. A.l.l. B.E. Group, Inc.
The acronym stands for World, Enriching, Activating, Liberating, Love, Beautification, and Experience.
Ronald Herd is the founder of W.E. A.l.l. B.E. Group, Inc., an umbrella organization advocating responsible social entrepreneurism and activism via the arts, media and education.
He and his mother, Callie Herd, who spawn the idea to educate people about the massacre through the arts, thought it would be a fitting tribute to the soldiers. The historic significance of the project is “God-ordained,” she said.
“We wanted to create a story through the eyes of the artists to allow the audience to see the importance of knowing one’s history so that we will learn from the negatives,” said Callie Herd, an activist and author of a college preparation blog.
“These are black artists paying homage to their ancestors,” said Ronald Herd, a social justice artist, blogger, and jazz aficionado known by the moniker “R2C2H2 Tha Artivist.”
Aisha Raison was smitten by the artwork and the controversial imagery emanating from the surface of the paintings and drawings.
“There is so much history behind this exhibit,” said Raison, including the sordid history surrounding the Fort Pillow massacre.
Her grandmother, she said, lived in Fulton, Tenn., one of the oldest settlements in Lauderdale County, and talked about finding skulls along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Fort Pillow, also in Lauderdale County, is nearby.
“They were kids playing by the riverbanks,” said Raison, an author, poet and essayist who works at WABN Radio, a gospel station in Southaven, Miss.
Stanley Campbell noted the importance of the exhibit and its attraction. “I feel the energy from up high,” said Campbell, the proprietor of the House of Mtenzi (Swahili for artist), a museum and venue for the performing arts.
“I’m delighted to be a part of the past history, the presence, and what’s to come,” he said.