The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ recent proposal for a Mississippi state-issued license plate in honor Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has become the issue of considerable national attention. This controversy has been heightened with the refusal of Governor Haley Barbour to publicly denounce the group’s proposal.
Forrest is a controversial figure in American history; praised by some as a military genius and vilified by others for leading an 1864 massacre of black Union troops at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, and for his position as the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan following the war.
When he was asked about his stance, Governor Barbour replied: “I don’t go around denouncing people. That’s not going to happen. I don’t even denounce the news media.” He went on to add; “I know there’s not a chance it’ll become law.”
On Penn State’s blog of the Civil War Era, Sean Trainor, weighed in with a passionate response. “This should not be, and it cannot be,” he said, “We cannot allow [the] approval… of remembering so odious, so miserable, so unforgivable a figure as Nathan Bedford Forrest.” Trainor characterizes Forrest as a man who earned his fortune in slave trade, who led a massacre of surrendered African-American troops, and the person who ended his “illustrious personal history” as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
He went on to say: “Forrest’s memory is… offensive… to all Americans. No amount of military ‘genius,’ no feat or maneuver on a battlefield near or far will make Forrest anything more than what he was: a grim manifestation of America’s most hateful legacy and the author of countless sorrows.”
Bloggers who defend the Sons of Confederate Veterans have shared their opinions in defense of the proposal. In a blog posted on “The Confederate American” website entitled “Nathan Bedford Forrest: Civil Rights Pioneer,” supporters express the belief that Forrest’s name has been unjustly tarnished by the evolving impressions of the Ku Klux Klan and false accusations about his actual involvement.
“As usual, the NAACP and the news media are attempting to shape opinions rather than impartially relay facts.” These supporters state that Forrest distanced himself from the Klan once it became a purely racial organization, and went on to embrace a “radical” doctrine that was “light years” ahead of other measures of the day, even in the North. They support this with quotes from a speech that Forrest is said to have made to a prominent civil rights group at the time.
“The good name of General Nathan Bedford Forrest should not be allowed to be falsely demeaned by those with a leftist ‘politically correct’ agenda. On the contrary, he must be remembered as a civil rights pioneer who tried his best to head off the over 100 years of racial strife that followed the War Between the States.”