NPR has a story about reliving our history, that recalls the old saying from George Santayana that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it:
A fight is brewing in Mississippi over a proposal to issue specialty license plates honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans wants to sponsor a series of state-issued license plates to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which it calls the “War Between the States.” … “Seriously?” state NAACP president Derrick Johnson said when he was told about the Forrest plate. “Wow.”
Wow, indeed, for General Forrest was the officer in charge of the infamous 1864 Civil War massacre of black troops at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. He also was the first Ku Klux Klan “grand wizard,” when that white terrorist group was formed in Tennessee soon after the Civil War. And they want to celebrate a leader of terrorists trying to end Reconstruction and restore the old slaveholding elite’s control of the South?
All too many southern whites live in a collective world of historical fictions like this one, of Forrest as a “great military leader.” Instead, he was the leader of racist murderers trying to preserve one of the most brutal and racialized systems of oppression ever invented by men. After that war, he was for a time (he later resigned) the leader of white terrorists trying to restore the Old South’s totalitarian system.
And the “war between the states” is another romantic fictionalizing of the southern whites’ war against the federal union. This was a war of treason led by slaveholding white elites who, rather inaccurately, thought they could win the war against the federal union.
Apparently, some in every new generation of whites in the South and also generally in the white supremacist universe out on the Internet there have to parrot such discredited historical fiction. Why is that?
The license plate phenomenon is going on SC where they have the “coon hunting” license plates: http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/01/in_south_carolina_coon_hunting_is_real.html.
Great leader, huh? Considering NBF as a “great leader” is like that piece of cinematic FICTION, Forrest Gump, where he describes how he got his name and who NBF was: “Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense” (Thanks Wikiquote).
The remaking of Forrest and the Civil War is a daily battle in my part of the country. It seems that calling Forrest a “hero” and the Civil War the “war between the states,” the “war of ‘Northern aggression,'” the “battle for states rights,” among other things, never gets old to most around here. It’s sometimes hard for them to face the facts that slavery was at the core of succession and each state actually justified this with documentation. James Loewen’s Confederate and Neo-Confederate reader has made it easier to put together a class discussion about the role of slavery and racism in the Civil War: http://www.amazon.com/Confederate-Neo-Confederate-Reader-Great-Truth/dp/1604732199/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297469995&sr=1-1.