Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Should Germantown "Resolve" about Hate Groups?

Resolution 17R16 – A Resolution of the City of Germantown to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry  

Is Resolution 17R16 an appropriate condemnation of hate of the type seen recently in Charlottesville? Or, instead of being simply a fluffy, feel-good resolution, is it a pathway to enacting laws with unforseen consequences, perhaps even including legislation that might infringe on the First Amendment rights of assembly and speech? 

This is the question that aldermen must face this Monday.  

Now, let's look at the text that the aldermen will be voting on: 

I completely reject the white supremacy movement and find it extremely dangerous. In all honesty, I don't mind our city's passing a proclamation against white supremacy, although some people disagree. Detractors wonder why a city should judge which ideas are right or wrong. They ask, "Shouldn't such judgments be left to the individual rather than to a government?" I do not find this argument persuasive. White supremacy is morally indefensible. If this were simply a measure denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other similar groups, I would say: "Fine. Pass this fluffy feel-good resolution. It will be nice to put Germantown squarely against the morally bankrupt hate movements responsible for the events in Charlottesville."   

But I did a double-take and my hair stood on end when I read past the last "whereas" above. It states:

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the City of Germantown supports the Mayors' Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry and supports the Mayor's effort to work with executive and legislative partners at federal and state levels to ensure that civil rights laws are aggresively enforced, existing hate crime laws are strengthened as needed and new laws are enacted to ensure that all hate crimes are prosecutable in their jurisdictions to the greatest extent of the law." 

The above clause implies that Germantown will follow all the recommendations of the Mayors' Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry-- an initiative developed by the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. New legislation is contemplated, but what conduct will it ban? Although the resolution is non-binding, the City would appear to be committing itself to support laws recommended by the Mayor's Compact. Are we prepared to make such a commitment when we know so little about this Compact and what it intends to do? I cannot help but wonder if far-reaching legislation isn't the whole point of this effort to entice communities into signing off on what otherwise appears to be a condemnation of hate.  

Here is an article about the Compact that appeared in the Washington Post:

To put it mildly, I am surprised that the City of Germantown proposes to align itself with a newly formed group that arose in the wake of Trump's controversial response to Charlottesville. I did not see this coming. Did you realize that Germantown is a hotbed of anti-Trump sentiment? I didn't. Don't we have enough controversy over fountains, mattress stores, buildings too close to the street, bicycle lanes, drainage, school locations, and alcohol ordinances? Is it wise to further divide our community by aligning ourselves with a national group formed as an emotional reaction to controversial statements by President Trump? 

Apart from the Resolution's potention for distraction, it could also lead to pitfalls with ominous implications. I talked to a lawyer friend, and here were some of her questions:

Does the Resolution mean that the City of Germantown will work ACTIVELY and officially against proposed legislation to carve out protection for car drivers who strike someone in the street that is a protester? Does it mean the City of Germantown will work ACTIVELY and officially against legislation that enhance penalties for any injuries to a police officer, whether purposeful or accidental?  Does it mean the City of Germantown will be using its lobbyist to work ACTIVELY for legislation to enact a "Hate Speech/Hate Crime" law on the state level?    

It is my friend's last question that most concerns me. Does the Compact contemplate legislation that would criminalize speech or limit free assembly? We are treading in dangerous water if we promote challenges to the First Amendment. European nations ban the use of Nazi symbols and salutes. Here, however, these hateful expressions are protected by the First Amendment. Does the Compact contemplate legislation that would outlaw these symbols? Does the Compact envision limiting the citizens' right to assembly? We all treasure these rights, and any attempt to chip away at them should be resisted.  
A central purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech, indeed, speech so unpopular as to incense the overwhelming majority of Americans. David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU, felt it necessary to write a thoughtful piece on why we must not permit the events occurring in Charlottesville to enduce us to forsake the First Amendment. Even the horrible, neo-Nazi thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville need First Amendment protection.  

I recommend that everyone read the entire piece. Here is an excerpt: 

As Frederick Douglass reminded us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Throughout our history, disadvantaged minority groups have effectively used the First Amendment to speak, associate, and assemble for the purpose of demanding their rights—and the ACLU has defended their right to do so. Where would the movements for racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBT equality be without a muscular First Amendment? 

The First Amendment implications of this resolution should be apparent to all; however, Clay Bailey, a journalist who should have a heightened appreciation of these issues, ignored these First Amendment implications in his recent hit piece against resolution-opponent Dean Massey, who objects to the resolution because it is overly broad and connected to an unvetted authority.

Mr. Bailey's column is needlessly polarizing. He has given no thought to the potential ramifications of this resolution.

Whatever your feelings about Resolution No.17R16, be sure to communicate them to our aldermen--  

I personally feel that the resolution should be tabled until we have a clear picture of the specific legislative agenda sought by the Mayor's Compact to Combat Hate. We need to ensure that such legislation does not affect our First Amendment rights. If we feel we must take some action, the wiser course at this point would be simply to adopt a resolution that our community can fully embrace-- namely, a resolution condemning hatred of the sort that we saw in Charlottesville.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wildwood Farms--the people, the history, and the future

As the rest of our City "urbanizes," one part, thankfully, is preserving Germantown's rural heritage. Wildwood Farms is one of the newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places.

Nothing defines the Germantown of the past century better than its horse farms. And our quintessential horse farm is Wildwood Farms, located on South Germantown Road near Stout. When I heard about its being added to the Register, I yearned to know more. You see, my introduction to Germantown was through Wildwood Farms, during the early 1980s.  

I was privileged to count Lynn Taylor as a very good friend. Her husband Lee grew up at Wildwood Farms, which was originally purchased by his grandfather. Lee's parents, William and Audrey Taylor, lived in "The Big House." The Taylor family was in the cotton business. Once a week, I drove from east Memphis, turned into the magical farm and followed the winding road around "The Big House", past the swimming pool until I reached two well manicured rubico tennis courts. Within view in one direction was the historic barn, and behind the courts the horse and walking trails ran through the woods. Eight of us played tennis, and afterwards talked in the shade by the court as we sipped lemonade or sweet tea. I thus became familiar with Germantown.  I visited the Germantown Commissary when it was still a country store, experienced Old Germantown when it was much larger than it is today (and still located on a country lane), and drove past the famous horse speed limit signs. Occasionally, I even went to the polo matches at the field just down the street in Memphis (this was long before before 385 was built), or went to a party in the barn or The Big House. If there was a band, it was generally The Settlers (listen to Germantown Blues by the Settlers). 

Sadly, Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer just a few short years after I first met her. Following her initial treatment, Lynn decided to skip the polo season in Palm Beach. Instead, she went to Oxford, England to study Shakespeare, and, upon her return, she taught English at Germantown HIgh School. She had a passion for her job and she loved inspiring the average student even more than those that were more accomplished. Her interest in innovative teaching methods led to the establishment of The Lynn Warren Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award at GHS, which exists to this day. Unfortunately, she eventually succumbed to her disease. I lost a wonderful friend. 

Melanie and Calypso, with Gold Medal
Later, I was pleased to learn that Lee had remarried-- to Melanie Smith, a member of the Hugh Frank Smith family, well known in the Germantown horse world. By then, Melanie was a world-class rider, having won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles for team show jumping. She remains active in horse circles, and serves as an analyst on NBC for horse show competitions. She authored a book, the favorably reviewed Riding With Life, Lessons from the Horse. From the Mid South Horse Review-- 

Against the backdrop of her life story, Melanie presents a wealth of detailed exercises, instructional photographs, and valuable advice, as well as details about the many horses that have helped shape her approach.Throughout, she encourages us to appreciate and honor the nobility of the horse and forge a true connection with this wonderful animal.   
Melanie and Lee, from her book Riding with Life
Here she answers some questions put to her by The Eclectic Horseman. I was happy to read that Melanie stresses the importance of wearing a helmet.

Audrey Taylor Gonzales, Lee's sister, is another author in the family. She has lived all over the world. When she returned to the Memphis area, for a time she served as a minister at Calvary Episcopal Church downtown. Audrey's Blog gives "musings" from her life. Of particular interest to us is a post that describes her early life in Memphis and Germantown. She was the focus of a piece by David Waters-- Lifelong Journey Leads Woman of Privilege Back to Memphis Priesthood, and the Poor. Here she is talking about her novel South of Everything

Lee Taylor, now deceased, was the "heart and soul" of Wildwood Farms, according to Melanie. "Without Lee, there would be no Wildwood Farms." His devotion to the equestrian way of life was inspirational to everyone in the area. 

In addition to overseeing the operations of the farm, Lee used his considerable business acumen to solidify the family business by diversifing from cotton into other areas--a prime example being the company's acquisition of Holly Farms Chicken (later purchased by Tyson Foods).  

Lee was an outstanding polo player, even competing with Prince Charles in Palm Beach. Because of his commitment to the sport, the Memphis Polo Club games were moved from the Hunt and Polo Club in Memphis to Wildwood Farms. One year, he was called upon to host the U.S. Open of Polo, when the Oak Brook, Illinois location had issues that prevented it from hosting the event. After 385 was built, the Memphis Polo Club games were moved out of town.
One View of Historic Barn

I recently chatted with Melanie, current owner of Wildwood Farms. When I asked the how and why of the listing on The National Register of Historic Places, she said simply, "It needs to have its history preserved. This is a good first step." She stated that in completing the long application process she learned a good deal about the history of Wildwood Farm. It is believed that there was a Civil War encampment located there, as evidenced by the artefacts found at the site with a metal detector. The historic buildings on the property are the marvelous barn, the shop, and the manager's house. (The Big House is gone.) These buildings were designed and built during the Great Depression, in a time frame of just six months. Paul Mueller was the architect who laid out the plans for the farm. His son, Bart, remained in Germantown and started the Longreen Fox Hunt. Bart and the late Sonny Foster were the two people who started the Germantown Charity Horse Show.
The barn from another vantage point

When I asked her if the preservation efforts were limited to the buildings, Melanie answered with a resounding "NO." She said that all 360 acres need to be preserved as a unit. "I am taking measures to ensure that." It is her personal mission to see that the preservation is done correctly. 

We should all be happy that the future of Wildwood Farm is in the hands of Melanie Smith Taylor, a determined woman with an appreciation for the preservation of history. 

More details can be learned about Wildwood Farms from Melanie's book, or from a display at Saddles 'n Such on S. Germantown Road. 

Display at Saddles 'N Such