Monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest,
first Imperial Wizard of the KKK, in Selma, AL,
before the bust on top was stolen.
, a community organization in Selma, Alabama, has posted a petition at Change.org
which has garnered close to 320,000 signatures to stop the repair and expansion of a monument dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, slave dealer, and first Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.
The controversy, or Klantroversy, as I dub it, is attracting notice outside of Selma.
Protestors in Selma, Alabama, will try to stop Klan founder's monument.
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Racist, murderer, or savior of the town? Nathan Bedford Forrest still stirs controversy in Selma, Alabama, where emotions are running high over plans to replace a monument honoring the Civil War officer and Ku Klux Klan founder.
A bust of Forrest was stolen from a cemetery in the city in March and when the Friends of Forrest raised money to replace it, opponents gathered 84,000 signatures to stop them. In August, protestors laid in front of trucks to prevent the statue from being installed, said civil rights lawyer Rose Sanders, who founded The Museum of Slavery and the Civil War in Selma.
Protestors now plan to march on the cemetery on Friday, then drive to a church in Birmingham, some 85 miles away, where four children were killed in 1963 by a bomb set by Klan members, said organizer Sanders. The protestors are part of a local group called Grassroots Democracy.
"Would people tolerate a statue of bin Laden or a Nazi? I know of no one in U.S. history less deserving of a monument," said Sanders.
These are shrines. Not simply "history."
I'm not looking at this simply as a great-granddaughter of enslaved Americans, even though I had black ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I have a white great-grandfather who did as well. He fought for the Union, serving in the 6th Light Artillery Regiment of Wisconsin. I also have kinship ties to those who are descended from soldiers who fought for the South. However, they have researched their family simply to understand history a bit better, and they aren't wearing that history as a badge of pride and courage, nor do they condone racism.
I often hear the glorification of Confederate figures explained away as simply "Southern Pride."
I call that b.s.
It is a justification for the continuation of a cult of racial superiority.
Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest
Monuments to Forrest are scattered throughout the South. Quite a few are in his home state of Tennessee, including a state park
named in his honor in Benton County.
Nathan Bedford Forrest (July 13, 1821 – October 29, 1877) was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He is remembered both as a self-educated, innovative cavalry leader during the war and as a leading southern advocate in the postwar years. He served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret vigilante organization which launched a reign of terrorism against African-Americans, Northerners that had moved to the postwar South, Southerners who supported the Union, and Republicans during the Reconstruction era in the Southern United States.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
A cavalry and military commander in the war, Forrest is one of the war's most unusual figures. Less educated than many of his fellow officers, Forrest had amassed a fortune prior to the war as a planter, real estate investor, and slave trader. He was one of the few officers in either army to enlist as a private and be promoted to general officer and division commander by the end of the war. Although Forrest lacked formal military education, he had a gift for strategy and tactics. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname The Wizard of the Saddle.
He was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow for allowing forces under his command to conduct a massacre upon hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionist prisoners. In their postwar writings, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee both expressed their belief that the Confederate high command had failed to fully utilize Forrest's talents.
The Massacre at Fort Pillow
A description of the massacre from Harper's Weekly
, (30th April, 1864):
On the 12th April, the rebel General Forrest appeared before Fort Pillow, near Columbus, Kentucky, attacking it with considerable vehemence. This was followed up by frequent demands for its surrender, which were refused by Major Booth, who commanded the fort. The fight was then continued up until 3 p.m., when Major Booth was killed, and the rebels, in large numbers, swarmed over the intrenchments. Up to that time comparatively few of our men had been killed; but immediately upon occupying the place the rebels commenced an indiscriminate butchery of the whites and blacks, including the wounded. Both white and black were bayoneted, shot, or sabred; even dead bodies were horribly mutilated, and children of seven and eight years, and several negro women killed in cold blood. Soldiers unable to speak from wounds were shot dead, and their bodies rolled down the banks into the river. The dead and wounded negroes were piled in heaps and burned, and several citizens, who had joined our forces for protection, were killed or wounded. Out of the garrison of six hundred only two hundred remained alive. Three hundred of those massacred were negroes; five were buried alive. Six guns were captured by the rebels, and carried off, including two 10-pound Parrotts, and two 12-pound howitzers. A large amount of stores was destroyed or carried away.
from a letter of a Confederate soldier:
Achilles Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee cavalry, wrote to his sister immediately after the battle: "The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased."
Apologist historians tend to want to gloss over his active business in human flesh. He was a slave dealer, not simply a slaveholder, and nothing
is more vile.
The uproar and outrage over the Forrest shrine speaks to a deeper issue about not only our flawed history, but our current inability to cast aside racism, and racist groups that not only applaud and condone a Confederate past, but support what resembles a new Confederacy.
The protest in Selma is only one among many in recent years; there have been groups trying to get Confederate flags out of statehouses, and blocking Forrest from being honored on license plates.
And though we tend to think of the KKK as significantly diminished in 2012—as simply an historical sideshow in the bigger picture of race and racism in the U.S.—they are still among us. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates "that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different—and often warring—organizations that use the Klan name."
Much of their blatant bigotry is no longer exclusively their purview and those of white citizen's councils—their ideology too often these days comes out of the mouths of legitimate politicians and their followers.
You don't need a hood to use Klan speak.
Charles Pierce put it this way in Esquire.
There is no question in my mind anymore that the Republican Party has reconfigured itself as a Confederate party. Not because it is so largely white, though it is. Not because it is largely Southern, though it is that, too. And not because it fights so hard for vestigial accoutrements like the Confederate battle flag. The Republican Party is a Confederate party, I think, because that is its view of what the government of the United States should be.
I find it interesting that the Selma klantroversy was reported
in the Native American press—Indian folks have their own issues with everything from the glorification of Christopher Columbus, to the faces carved on Mt. Rushmore "looming over the sacred landscape" of the Black Hills.
I'm well aware of our Constitutional protections which cover freedom of speech and religion.
Erecting shrines to traitors and terrorists crosses a line for me.
Feel free to disagree.