Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was “one of the South’s first civil rights leaders,” a GOP state representative from Tennessee wrote in an op-ed published Thursday.
Tennessee State Rep. Andy Holt (R) said lawmakers were trying to “stoke the fires of racial tension in America” with claims against Forrest and by removing his remains from a Memphis park, according to his op-ed in The Jackson Sun, a newspaper in Jackson, Tenn.
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.
Holt cited a speech he said Forrest gave in 1875 at a Fourth of July barbecue for an early civil right organization in Memphis.
As Holt described it, Forrest accepted the speaking invitation and said, “Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief.” Holt said the Confederate general’s speech was met by “a large crowd of blacks (who) roared with applause.”
The Republican lawmaker said he would “continue to honor the life of General Forrest” because of his conscience and faith.
“The very idea of treating someone differently and not awarding them the same opportunities because of the color of their skin is absolutely disgusting. Were he alive today, Gen. Forrest would agree. In fact, Forrest was one of the South’s first civil rights leaders — a fact lost on many politicians looking to capitalize off the South Carolina tragedy.”
Public officials have moved to take down Confederate flags and other symbols of the Confederacy following the deaths of nine black parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect in the massacre is a 19-year-old white man who was photographed embracing the Confederate flag before the shooting.
Removing the Confederate symbol is a mistake, Holt wrote.
“Those interested in actually mending racial tension in Tennessee, rather than pandering for quick political points, should be singing the praises of Gen. Forrest. We should be teaching the story of Nathan B. Forrest to every last school child, not digging up his grave in an attempt to rewrite history.”
Holt isn’t the first Tennessee lawmaker to suggest removing symbols of the Confederacy would be wrong.
Republican Tennessee state Sen. John Stevens said this while he doesn’t oppose removing Forrest’s name from a city park, it could be a slippery slope.
“If people want to change the name of the park, change the name of the park. I’m certainly not going to defend Gen. Forrest. I just think it’s a slippery slope when you start changing names and taking down statues,” Stevens said. “What separates us from ISIS? Because that’s what they do, they go around and tear down history in those nations that they’ve conquered. If that’s what America is about now, then it concerns me.”