Posts Tagged ‘King’

A Monument to Hatred and Ignorance

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

By Bob Gaydos

A good friend of mine recently had a WTF???!!! moment on Facebook and it had nothing to do with Mitt Romney. For a writer who is thoroughly disgusted with the American political system, this is the best gift of all.

The posting concerned an effort in Selma, Ala., to renovate, reconstruct, replace and in general spiffy up a monument to Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Now, for starters, I have had it up to my red, white and blue boxers with Southerners who continue to fight the Civil War. It was over almost 150 years ago. It was a brutal war, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. It was, if you will, a treasonous war for all the states who chose to leave the union and attack the government of the United States of America. It was a war fought to defend an indefensible principle — slavery. And the South lost.

What is there to celebrate with all the flags and monuments? A failure to destroy the country to which you now pay very public and presumably proud allegiance?

This is annoying and, just my opinion, stupid. But that is not the WTF???!!! element of this story. It turns out that Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (last time I use all three names), who is revered in his home state of Tennessee, as well as Alabama, was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’ll wait while that sinks in.

It’s true. In Selma, no less, where Martin Luther King Jr. began his march to Montgomery for racial equality, there has been a statue honoring a founder of the Ku Klux Klan and a group known as Friends of Forrest wants to repair and replace what has been damaged or stolen (the head) from it over the years. The City Council is debating the issue.

A little history on Forrest. He was by most accounts, one of the South’s brightest generals. Also one of its most ruthless. With no military training, he quickly rose in the ranks to serve as, what is widely regarded, the best cavalry general in the war. A brilliant tactician, who emphasized having a fast, mobile force, his motto was, “Get there first with the most men.”

His unofficial motto might well have been take no prisoners, since he is blamed by most historian for several violent assaults, including the Massacre at Fort Pillow in 1864. A large force headed by Forrest attacked a small Union force that sought to surrender. Forrest’s troops killed more than 200 black Union soldiers and a like number of white troops who were fighting side by side with them.

That reputation for violence, especially against blacks, went with him after the war and the founding of the Klan in Tennessee. There, the violence continued. Ironically, Forrest is said to have given the order to disband the KKK after five years because it became even too violent for him. That order was probably so much 19th century spin, however, since he couldn’t really control the Klan groups outside of Tennessee and everyone knew, with increased attention from government forces, the group was taking its activity underground.

Now for the hopeful part of the story. Even in Selma, common sense and decency exist and technology has taken root. Malika Fortier, a citizen of Selma, heard about the plans to buff up Forrest’s image and began a campaign to stop it. A community leader proud of her city’s contribution to the civil rights movement, and aware of the KKK outrages committed against Selma’s citizens — many whose families still live there — she started a petition to the mayor and city council to stop the monument renovation.

Fortier posted the petition (which has about 300,000 signatures) on social media outlets on the internet, which could be viewed as a 21st century version of getting there first with the most troops. The petition is posted at ForceChange.com. Here is the link: Stop the Renovation of Ku Klux Klan Leader Monument – ForceChangeSign it if you agree.

To be thorough and legally accurate, this is an effort at moral persuasion. The city council probably has no legal grounds to prevent this renovation since the monument was moved off public land years ago to a private cemetery after public outcry. And people have a legal right to be racists in this country, so long as they obey the law. And, some argue that Forrest was a great general.

But really, Selma, is this what you want to teach your children? Is there to be no end to the war fought 150 years ago? Cannot healing and conciliation finally replace hate and fear? Do Selma’s residents need to be reminded of the atrocities committed there by one of the most hateful groups in this country?

Forrest (yes, Gump was named after him) was a brilliant general and a horrid human being. Surely, the people of Selma can find someone more deserving to honor with a monument.

 bob@zestoforange.com