On Nov. 20, 2002, while teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I published an essay in The Tennessean newspaper criticizing a taxpayer-funded statue of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. My recollection is that I received about 800 hate messages via email — saying things like "I hope you are killed in the most violent, bloody way possible by another worthless jigaboo ni**er!!!" with the unnecessary coda "HEIL HITLER!!!" — and postal mail (including a miniature Confederate flag sent to me months later at my new office at MIT). Vanderbilt received over 1,000 emails and phone calls.
Wallace Earl Cook, of the 1400 block of Nesbitt Drive in Madison, said he was going to come over to Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee's office and "cut Gee's heart out," according to a police report. Mr. Gee wrote he "spent a day with campus police in [his own] office."
The Confederacy was still strong then. Instead of criticizing Mr. Cook or other Klan supporters, Mr. Gee called me "volatile" (no doubt to get the neo-Confederates off his back) and the Klan supporters "old friends."
And they were Klan supporters. In an article that referred to me, The Nation reported in "Trent Lott's Uptown Klan" that the former Republican Senate Majority Leader was an "honorary member" of the Council of Conservative Citizens ("We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind," the CCC states as one of its "principles"), even taking photos with its head, Gordon Baum, in Mr. Lott's office. The editor of the CCC's newsletter urged its members to "gather a mob" to get me, with Mr. Baum vilifying me on national radio.
A man supporting the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) came to a meeting at Vanderbilt and defended the KKK. There were about 100 witnesses. A Sons of Confederate Veterans newsletter listing Lunelle Siegel as editor claims that Nathan Forrest "helped start the organization known as the KKK ... to offset the oppression of the Southern people." On the Sierra Times website, Ms. Siegel said the "KKK was created to protect women and children" (!) and provided contact information for the chairman of my department at Vanderbilt University; the Klan supporters were urging Vanderbilt to fire me. In letters to the editor, someone responded, "[Farley's] words inflamed me such that I wanted to put a minie [bullet] down the barrel of my Enfield [rifle], hunt him down, and shoot him like the dog he is."
Then it got bad.
I wrote the essay as a private citizen, not a Vanderbilt professor, but I did mention Vanderbilt's Confederate Memorial Hall. Vanderbilt had tried to strike "Confederate" from the hall's name, and the UDC had sued.
As an untenured professor, I obviously played no role in the decision to change the name of the dormitory. But a judge ruled that not only could I be subpoenaed in the case, the people who actually had made the decision to change the name of the building could not be subpoenaed — indeed, their names had to be kept secret.
I fled Tennessee, leaving behind many of my belongings, including my Oxford University graduation gown.
Instead of defending one of its members from death threats, instead of remaining silent, the Vanderbilt administration attacked me, with Mr. Gee saying I was in the wrong in The Tennessean and the Vanderbilt student newspaper. David Barzelay and other student writers mocked my position that the Klan founder had committed capital crimes when he executed black prisoners of war in 1864, comparing it to the "crime" of overcooking a steak, and in another student publication Jacob Grier lied, saying that I gave white students lower grades. I told Vanderbilt to stop the students from publishing such irresponsible and libelous articles (this was not a First Amendment issue), but the administration did nothing.
Vanderbilt spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in The Tennessean that my criticism of the Confederacy was "rightly offensive to, and rejected by, most people." In turn, the Black Student Alliance at Vanderbilt said its members "support everything that Dr. Jonathan Farley wrote about the Confederacy," and demanded that Mr. Schoenfeld "publicly retract and apologize for his racist remarks." After The Tennessean published the name of the BSA's president, however, someone sent her an email gloating about a movie in which "[n]i**ers are lynched and burned," and she suddenly decided she needed to focus on her finals.
In 2016, Vanderbilt's chancellor, Nick Zeppos, said he would pay the United Daughters of the Confederacy $1.2 million for the right to rename Confederate Memorial Hall.
The Confederates were murderers and traitors; their heirs terrorists and cowards. The terrorists won in Nashville, but, fortunately, Baltimore's mayor is continuing Sherman's march to the Inner Harbor and is considering consigning Baltimore's Confederate monuments to the dung heap of history.