About Edward W. Carmack, U.S. Senator
Edward Ward Carmack (November 5, 1858 – November 9, 1908) was an attorney, newspaperman, and political figure who served as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1901 to 1907.
Following his political service, and after an unsuccessful run for Governor of Tennessee, he returned to his job as editor of the Nashville American. He was shot to death on November 9, 1908 over a feud precipitated by his editorial comments in the paper.
Carmack was born in Sumner County, Tennessee. He attended The Webb School, then at Culleoka, Tennessee. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1878 and began practicing in Columbia, Tennessee. He served as Columbia city attorney in 1881, and was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1884.
Carmack joined the staff of the Nashville Democrat in 1889, later becoming editor-in-chief of the Nashville American when the two papers merged. He later (1892) served as editor of the Memphis Commercial, now The Commercial Appeal.
Relationship with Ida B. Wells
Throughout his career Carmack was known to use his newspapers to attack rivals. During Carmack's tenure with the Appeal, his editorials began an interesting dialogue with another famous Tennessee journalist, Ida B. Wells. Wells, known as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement", was also not one to withhold her opinions and spoke out about the plight of African Americans in Post-Reconstruction era in the South. Memphis in the 1890's was a hotbed of racial tension, and lynching crimes were commonplace. Wells launched an anti-lynching campaign in her newspaper, the Free Speech.
The Free Speech received national attention in 1892 for its coverage of the so-called Curve Riot. Not a riot at all, the Curve Riot was an attack on the People's Grocery Store by a group of undercover police serving a warrant on the black-owned business. Will Barret, the store's white competitor, had convinced a local court that the People's Grocery was a nuisance. The court ordered the owners arrested. Fearing an attack, supporters of the People's Grocery armed themselves to defend the store. In the ensuing melee, three deputies were wounded. Crying "race riot," other armed whites joined the police and captured over thirty African-Americans, including three of the store's owners: Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart. A mob later seized the three from the jail and lynched them. Wells wrote passionately of the atrocity and advised her readers to abandon Memphis and move to the western territories. Many followed her advice. Carmack demanded retaliation against "the black wench" for her denunciation of the lynchings. As a result, the offices of the Free Speech were demolished. Fortunately, Wells was out of town when the attack occurred. She did not return to the South for another thirty years.
Carmack was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1896, and served two terms in that body, March 4, 1897 - March 4, 1901. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate by the Tennessee General Assembly, serving one term in that body, March 4, 1901 - March 4, 1907. Carmack served on the Lodge Committee investigating war crimes in the Philippine-American War.
Carmack failed to secure reelection to a second Senate term, being succeeded by former governor of Tennessee Robert L. Taylor, and returned to the practice of law. He then contended for the 1908 Democratic nomination for governor; when this proved to be unsuccessful as well, he then returned to editing the Nashville American.
Death and legacy
On November 9, 1908, he was shot down on the streets of Nashville over something he had said in the newspaper regarding Col. Duncan B. Cooper which had prompted a feud.
Perhaps in large measure because of the spectacular and violent nature of his death, a large bronze statue of Carmack, engraved with several quotes from Carmack on its surroundings and pedestal, was erected on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol building in which Carmack's figure seems to be gesturing to the plaza across the street. His remains were returned to Columbia, and he was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery there.
There is a continued effort by a Nashville attorney and professor to have the statue of Edward Carmack removed from outside the Tennessee State Capitol.
The statue has been at the location for years and honors a former newspaper publisher and U.S. senator who died 100 years ago.
Headlines from a century ago said Carmack was shot to death after a gun battle in downtown Nashville with two members of a prominent family.
"I don't think anyone knows who he is or why he's there," said attorney and professor Lewis Laska. "Edward Ward Carmack was one of the most racist politicians in Tennessee history." Laska feels the statue should come down because of what Carmack stood for.
"He wanted the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution repealed. That's the amendment that gave black men the right to vote. He thought that lynching was a good idea because it kept black people 'in their place,'" said Laska.
"I think it's plainly ridiculous that we have a statue memorializing a man who was backward-looking and frankly one of the most racist politicians in the history of Tennessee," said Laska.
The 100th anniversary of Carmack's death is the same year that America elected its first black president.
Laska's been advocating the removal of the statue since 1999.
For many years the public library on Hartsville Pike (Hwy 25E) in Gallatin, TN was named in his honor. A new public library was opened in 2008 in downtown Gallatin and local authorities decided not to use his name.
Editorial Wild Oats: Edward Ward Carmack and Tennessee Politics