A music video by country star Jason Aldean has drawn attention in part for featuring a Tennessee courthouse known as the site of a heinous lynching that occurred a century ago.
Released on YouTube on Friday, the video for the song, “Try that in a small town”, features Aldean and his band performing in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, the same site where a black teenager was lynched in 1927.
Henry Choate, 18, was charged with assaulting a 16-year-old white girl. He was jailed, but a mob of hundreds of whites kidnapped him from his cell. They tied him to the back of a car and dragged him through town, eventually hanging him in front of the Maury County courthouse.
Choate was one of at least 20 black men in Maury County who were lynched or kidnapped and presumed killed by KKK or white mobs. according to local historian Elizabeth Queener.
Aldean’s video also includes scenes that appear to feature footage from Black Lives Matter protests, as Aldean sings lyrics like «Cuss out a cop, spit on his face/ Stomp on the flag and light up/ Yeah, you think you’re hard.»
Outcry over the video, which has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube, led CMT to remove it from the air on Monday.
On Tuesday, Aldean tweeted that he was wrongly «accused of releasing a pro-lynching song.» She then defended the music video, saying that «there’s not a single lyric in the song that references or targets race, and there’s not a single video clip that isn’t actual news material, and while I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song set to music, this one goes too far.»
Meanwhile, the courthouse and other sites like it have come to represent the series of lynchings that terrorized blacks during the Jim Crow era, and an enduring symbol of white supremacy, said Robert David Bland, an assistant professor of history and African studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Beyond Choate, more than 230 blacks were lynched in Tennessee between 1877 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
Bland said the national history of black lynchings is often buried, and many people don’t even know it happened.
“We have never commemorated or told those stories,” Bland said. “Many of those stories are lost over time.”
Bland suggested adding historical markers to the Maury County courthouse and other lynching sites across the state, such as the site of the People’s Grocery lynchings in Memphis, where a historical marker was placed. in 1991. The markers, he added, «would make it clear that something unspeakable happened in this country.» He also called on civil rights organizations to help raise awareness about the state’s history of racism.
“There is a broader education that needs to happen around lynching that both the local communities, the state of Tennessee, as well as civil rights partners in the local community…need to speak out and raise awareness,” Bland said.