First there were South Carolina’s “Coon Hunting” license plates. Now a fight is brewing in Mississippi over a proposal of state-issued license plates that commemorate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate Army general during the Civil War and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
From the Huffington Post:
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.” The group proposes a different design each year between now and 2015, with Forrest slated for 2014.
… Forrest, a Tennessee native, is revered by some as a military genius and reviled by others for leading the 1864 massacre of black Union troops at Fort Pillow, Tenn. Forrest was a Klan grand wizard in Tennessee after the war.
Sons of Confederate Veterans member Greg Stewart said he believes Forrest distanced himself from the Klan later in life. It’s a point many historians agree upon, though some believe it was too little, too late, because the Klan had already turned violent before Forrest left.
Leaders of the state’s NAACP chapter rightly contests that Forrest should be remembered as the leader of a terrorist group. The Klan is easily the most recognized domestic terrorist group of the 20th century, and helped foster a climate of hatred in Mississippi and throughout the 1950’s and ’60s. Naima Ramos-Chapman wrote last summer about the Justice Department’s lengthy list of 109 racially motivated cold case murders from that era. Benjamin Greenberg then reported in December on the Cold Case Project’s progress in forcing the feds’ hands to re-open investigations into some of those cases, like the saga of Frank Morris:
Many of the familiar civil rights era racial murders are stories of retaliation for activism. The victims’ names are embedded in our cultural memory of the era’s violence: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner; Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, Wharlest Jackson, Louis Allen, Herbert Lee, Birdia Keglar and Adlena Hamlett–to name just a few in Mississippi.
But there were other victims, like Frank Morris, who were targeted for reasons that are less overtly political, and perhaps even more insidious. These are stories in which there seem to be an accumulation of hostilities towards a black male that reach an unpredictable breaking point. Three main things animate the hostilities towards this different class of victim, often occurring in combination: their financial success, their willingness to stand up to whites and allegations of their having liaisons, real or perceived, with white women.
While these cases happened nearly a decade after Forrest’s reign over the South, there’s no denying that he helped lay the toxic foundation for the racial violence that plagued black people in the South for generations. “[Forrest] should be viewed in the same light that we view Saddam Hussein and
Osama bin Laden,” Derick Johnson, president of the NAACP, told the AP. “The state of Mississippi
should deny any vanity tags which would highlight racial hatred in this