You would think that in the year 2012, we would have come far enough to agree that symbols which represent racism and degradation could universally be decided to be wrong. I keep hearing about this post racial time which we supposedly live in, but have yet to actually see anything even remotely resembling it. We cannot be post racial due to the fact that whiteness still holds all of the social power and because symbols which commemorate white supremacy are very much still celebrated. Consider things like civil war re-enactments or the defense that white southerners are celebrating their heritage when they support and fly the confederate flag, rather than longing for a time in history when blacks were legally property, to be abused at will. There is also the continued lie that the civil war was not about slavery, though the articles of secession clearly state this to be a fact. This southern pride movement is about revisionism in the hopes of making their virulently racist ideals publicly palatable.
In 2000, the Friends of Forrest spent 21,000 dollars to erect a seven foot tall monument commemorating the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the father of the KKK. Even then, there was great controversy regarding this monument because Selma served as the location for important civil rights activism. This history was overlooked by the Friends of Forrest and The Sons of Confederate Veterans to tout the fact that Forrest was an aggressive defender of the South and unsuccessfully fought the battle of Selma during the civil war. The statue now resides at Confederate Circle in the city’s Old Live Oak Cemetery, after repeated acts of vandalism forced it to be moved from its original location at the Smitherman Building.
Regardless of his military bravery, the fact remains that even during his lifetime, Forrest was on the wrong side of history. He fought valiantly to defend a traitorous regime intent on continued subjugation of Blacks through slavery. Once the south was defeated, he worked tirelessly to create the KKK, which would go on to be a terrorist organization. Only in a white supremacist state could such a monument find a home, in a city which quickly became the frontline for civil rights activism. History is often written by the victors, but when it comes to the civil war, such notions are quickly tossed aside because it benefits white supremacy to cast true human evil as good.
Unfortunately, this monument isn’t even the only one commemorating this hateful man that not only started the KKK, but demanded that his troops murder black soldiers who surrendered. This makes Forrest a war criminal as far as I am concerned. Efforts to create Forrest as a hero have even been extended to an attempt to create vanity license plates in Mississippi. Though the NAACP spoke out against such a proposal, Republican Governor Haley Barbour refused to make a public disavowal.
“I don’t go around denouncing people,” he said, according to the Associated Press, when asked for a response to the proposal. “That’s not going to happen. I don’t even denounce the news media.” If you cannot call Nathan Bedford Forrest a scurrilous human being beneath contempt, who then may we rightfully attack?
Unfortunately, the father of the KKK is in the media again. In March, the bust of Forrest was removed from the monument, causing the Friends of Forrest to decide to not only make improvements but to enlarge the already 7-foot monument. The decision has been defended using free speech.
“We’re fortunate to live in a country where we each could have our own opinion and my hero may be a villain to you, and you may have some heroes that I don’t think much of, but we’re both allowed to venerate our heroes,” said Todd Kiscaden with the Friends of Forrest.