GOP Lawmaker: KKK Grand Wizard Was ‘One Of The South’s First Civil Rights Leaders’

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was a lot of things. He was known as the “Wizard of the Saddle” for his inventive use of cavalry during the Civil War. He was actually a wizard — a Grand one, anyway — in the Ku Klux Klan; and, according to Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R), Forrest was “one of the South’s first civil rights leaders.”

Recently, the Memphis, Tennessee City Council voted to remove Forrest’s remains from beneath a statue honoring him in Health Sciences Park, which was named after Forrest until two years ago. This seems to be the first step in removing the statue dedicated to the Civil War “hero” altogether — something that has Confederacy fetishists up in arms.

Holt complained in an op-ed Friday, that by voting to remove a Confederate general and KKK Grand Wizard’s remains from a public park, lawmakers were trying to  “stoke the fires of racial tension in America” because, hey — at least Forrest wasn’t the founder of the Klan. Besides, he didn’t actually wear pillowcases and bed sheets:

Those that wish to stoke the fires of racial tension in America claim that Gen. Forrest was the founder of the “KKK.” This is not true. The Ku Klos of the mid-1860s was founded by Judge Thomas Jones, Frank McCord and several other Confederate veterans. Two years after its founding, Forrest was elected grand wizard of the organization. However, he never dressed in costume.

“Through Christ, we are called to believe in and celebrate redemption. When we recognize the life of Gen. Forrest, we are doing just that — celebrating the life of a man, redeemed through Christ, that fought for the rights of black West Tennesseans,” Holt explained.

It is true that Forrest was a huge supporter of the rights of black people in America. He certainly supported their right to be owned and sold as commodities — and their right to meet Jesus as swiftly as possible. After a victory at Tennessee’s Fort Pillow, Forrest’s men slaughtered about 300 Union soldiers (about half of whom were freed slaves) who had already surrendered and laid down their arms:

The following spring, in April 1864, Forrest and his men were involved in one of the most controversial episodes of the Civil War.  After surrounding Fort Pillow, near Memphis, Forrest demanded the surrender of the garrison, which included 262 soldiers of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery.  When the Union forces refused, Forrest’s men easily overran the fort.  Then, according to several eyewitness accounts, the Confederates, enraged by the sight of black men in Federal uniform, executed many of the colored troops after they had surrendered: an unambiguous war crime.  Though accounts varied, the incident stands as one of the most gruesome of the Civil War era; “Remember Fort Pillow” became a rallying-cry for African-American soldiers throughout the Union Army.

In other words, General Forrest was a hero to Tennessee and an all-around swell guy, as far as Holt is concerned. His evidence that Forrest was a “civil rights leader” is that Forrest once gave a speech at a Fourth of July barbeque for a civil rights organization in Memphis:

In 1875, the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early civil rights organization in Memphis, invited Gen. Forrest to speak at their Fourth of July Barbecue. Ignoring the advice of many white friends urging him not to attend, Gen. Forrest accepted the invitation with an open heart. “Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand,” declared Gen. Forrest. After a speech that championed equality, unity and love, a large crowd of blacks roared with applause; a young black girl presented Gen. Forrest with a bouquet of flowers, for which he thanked her with kiss on the cheek.

“Those interested in actually mending racial tension in Tennessee, rather than pandering for quick political points, should be singing the praises of Gen. Forrest,” Holt wrote. ” In fact, to exhume the grave of a civil rights leader should be viewed by those seeking to improve race relations as a hostile action.”

Holt vowed to spend his entire time in office, “because my conscious and faith compel me to fight for unity,” honoring the life of the racist war criminal and KKK Grand Wizard.

While Forrest’s remains will be removed from the park, the statue itself will be a tougher battle. For that, Memphis Mayor Wharton says, the Tennessee Historical Commission and possibly the County Commission would need to grant their approval. HE would also need to obtain permission from Forrest’s descendants and a Chancery Court, reports WMCA5.

Yes, in an effort to clean up his public image, Forrest participated in limited civil rights-related activities. Yes, he disbanded his chapter of the Klan so he could focus on, as Holt put it, keeping “young blacks” from being “dependent on government” — common rhetoric that lives today among American conservatives. But he’s certainly not in any sense of the word a civil rights hero. Forrest was, in every way, a monster — just like anyone who would vow to spend their career glorifying him.

If you ever consider taking Holt’s words seriously, “Remember Fort Pillow.”

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