On the corner of 4th Ave. & Commerce St. in Nashville, there’s a historical marker that reads:
“William Walker; Grey-eyed Man of Destiny; Born May 8, 1824, Walker moved to this site from 6th Ave. N. in 1840. In early life he was doctor, lawyer & journalist. He invaded Mexico in 1853 with 46 men & proclaimed himself Pres., Republic of Lower Calif. Led forces into Nicaragua in 1855; was elected its Pres. in 1856. In attempt to wage war on Honduras was captured & executed Sept. 12, 1860.”
The interesting thing is that it doesn’t mention that Walker reintroduced slavery to a country that had abolished the institution in the year he was born.
In this episode of The Road to Now, Ben investigates how historical markers get made, and the agenda of those who work to establish them. He tracks down the origins of the William Walker marker, which was established in 1970, and speaks with Pippa Holloway to learn about her work in erecting a marker to Civil Rights activist Penny Campbell. It turns out a lot has changed in the half-century between the two markers, but some things remain constant then and now.
UPDATE: The historical marker in honor of Penny Campbell has been erected on the corner of Ordway Pl. & Rudolph Ave. in East Nashville. On Dec. 9, 2017, community members gathered for a dedication ceremony that featured live music and speeches by Pippa and community leaders such as Mayor Megan Berry and Councilman Brett Withers. Here’s a pic of Ben & Pippa in front of the marker on the day of the dedication.
A special thanks to Jon Burr and How I Became the Bomb for providing the music for this episode.
-TJ Stiles, “The Filibuster King: The Strange Career of William Walker, the Most Dangerous International Criminal of the Nineteenth Century,” History Now.
–Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission website
–The Road to Now Episode 17: Carlos Aleman on the History of Nicaragua, US-Central American Relations, and the Iran-Contra Scandal
–The Road to Now Episode 23: Pippa Holloway on the History of Disfranchisement and American Citizenship