Imagine walking into the Idi Amin Public Library, taking the kiddies to the Ted Bundy National Park, or driving across the Adolf Hitler Memorial Bridge. Uncomfortable just to think about, right? Generally, we don’t celebrate the legacies of soulless war mongers or despicable mass murderers. Ergo, it’s hard to understand why the city of Selma, Ala. is supporting a statue venerating Nathan Bedford Forrest, famed white supremacist and leader of that abject ethnic cleansing machine known as the Ku Klux Klan.
A lauded lieutenant general in the Confederate army, Forrest has been credited as a gifted tactician and military strategist. However, he has also been accused of war crimes at Fort Pillow when soldiers under his command slaughtered dozens of Union army prisoners—some white, but most of them black. All that killing innocent people business aside, the one-time slave trader has more monuments and edifices named in his honor in Tennessee, for example, than the three U.S. presidents who lived in the state.
There’s something to be said about the people some of us Americans build into heroes. And this one right here is a humdinger. Thankfully, Selma community leader Malika Sanders-Fortier has launched a petition against the monument.
He’s not the first or only person to treat human beings like livestock. Not by a long shot. He’s not even the first to abuse his authority in order to purposely target and rub out a particular group. But he was a Klansmen, and it seems like the most glaring of contradictions to have a trail that commemorates a famous march in one part of a city that played such a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and allow another part to house a tribute to a man who, if he could’ve had his druthers, would’ve kept those unruly negroes on the plantation.
A monument to that dude is an insult to not just black folks, but other minority groups who stumbled into the Klan’s crosshairs just for having the audacity to be non-white Protestant southerners and everybody who believes in racial equity and fairness. Granted, history isn't always pretty, but it's also not always worth building a monument for. Besides, Forrest doesn’t need a statue. His legacy lives on in the fact that the KKK is still alive and kickin’.
Two summers ago, my mother dragged me to an outdoor farmer’s market in Rising Sun, Md. Anyone familiar with Cecil County and the enclaves in the northern part of the state knows that Rising Sun is Klan country. But there we were, shifting through tables of Avon products, produce, and unimpressive antiques, and stepped back outside to find ourselves maybe 20 feet from three Klansmen, decked in full pointed-hat regalia. They were handing out tracts, unfazed by the black men and women milling around the grounds, peaceful as Mormons but intimidating as snarling Dobermans.
The experience ranks probably in the top 10 most awkward moments of my life. I was insulted and scared at the same time. That in and of itself is a living, breathing salute to Nathan Bedford Forrest. Far more telling of his leadership than a cheesy statue is the ability to help engineer a more than century-old organization still pushing the same agenda it was spewing during the 1800s. Now that’s a testament to his brand of racism.
It’s impossible to accurately determine how many black men and women were harassed, tortured, disenfranchised, financially ruined, and brutally murdered at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. There are still unaccounted victims and others who just went missing. People found dangling from trees. Homes destroyed. Crosses burnt in the Klan’s signature show of domestic terrorism. How is a man who proudly stood at the helm of such heartlessness based on the color of people’s skin worthy of accolade?
Here’s to hoping Sanders-Fortier’s effort is effective.
Do you think honoring Forrest is insulting?
Image via Newtown graffiti/Flickr