You remember the “Unite the Right” fiasco in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017? The rally was organized by a large number of different groups, mainly white supremacists and neo-Nazis. People died, more were injured, some beaten up, others injured when a car plowed into a group of people. And remember in the aftermath, when Donald Trump said there were good people on both sides? That rally was in protest of plans to remove a Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.
In the days following Charlottesville, Confederate statues began falling: activists in Durham, North Carolina, used ropes to tear down a statue of a Confederate soldier outside the city’s former courthouse; authorities in Baltimore moved to take down the city’s Confederate monuments; and the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, where state law prohibits the removal of a Confederate monument from a city park, ordered it covered up with plastic.
Confederate statues are a source of great controversy, as some claim they are a valuable part of U.S. history, while others say they enshrine evil – the evil that was slavery. Some accuse those who want the statues removed of attempting to “wipe out any pride Southerners should have in their heritage.” Trump argued that the removal of these monuments amounted to “changing history,” adding, “I wonder, is it George Washington next week?”; then later, tweeting that “the history and culture of our great country” are “being ripped apart” by those who wish to see the monuments gone.
There remain some 1,500 memorials to the Confederacy around the nation today. One such is a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that stands 25 feet high and depicts Forrest on a horse, shooting behind himself, flanked by Confederate battle flags. The sculptor of the statue is Jack Kershaw—who is primarily known for defending the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. The statue is located in Nashville, Tennessee, in plain sight of Interstate Highway 65. Since it is located on private property, it cannot be removed by state or county officials, and efforts to use landscaping to obscure it from view have failed. Let me tell you just a bit about Nathan Bedford Forrest …
Forrest was a Confederate Army general during the American Civil War. On April 12, 1864, he led the Battle of Fort Pillow, also known as the Fort Pillow massacre, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee. Fort Pillow was an African-American Union fort, and even thought the troops surrendered, they and their families who were residing within the fort were brutally tortured and murdered. The total deaths were estimated at 350, including women and children, and there were almost as many injured or captured.
Then in 1867, after the conclusion of the Civil War, Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a position he would hold for two years. The Klan, with Forrest at the lead, suppressed voting rights of blacks and Republicans in the South through violence and intimidation during the elections of 1868. Near the end of his life, he denied his role in the Fort Pillow Massacre, and claimed he had never been a member of the KKK, but his words are proven to be lies in the annals of history.
So why, you ask, am I giving you a history lesson today? Because yesterday, the State of Tennessee celebrated the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest. It is bad enough to have a statue of a Confederate figure, but to celebrate a man who was responsible for the deaths of African-Americans solely because their skin is dark … that, my friends, is an abomination.
In 1921, a state representative named John Travis of Henry County, Tennessee, got a bill passed marking the 100th birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, and every year since, the state’s governor has signed a proclamation to observe “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day”. This year was no exception, and current Governor Bill Lee signed the proclamation on Thursday.
Even Republican Senator Ted Cruz, for whom I have more pity than respect, spoke against honouring a man who should have been tried as a war criminal …
“This is WRONG. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general & a delegate to the 1868 Democratic Convention. He was also a slave trader & the 1st Grand Wizard of the KKK. Tennessee should not have an official day (tomorrow) honoring him. Change the law.”
My friend Herb tells me that I am too critical of the South. Things like this might explain why. Racism is alive and well all over the United States, but in most places it simmers beneath the surface, while in the South, they embrace it, they are proud of the heritage of slavery, proud to be the home of the KKK. Sorry, folks, it’s time to change the law that honours a slave trader, murderer and racist extraordinaire. You won’t find statues honouring Adolf Hitler in Germany, nor will you find a day dedicated to honouring his memory there.
We cannot forget the shameful past of this nation, nor should we. But we do not have to celebrate it!