In a comment on my previous post, I was taken to task for pointing out the simple fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Confederate General and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, disbanded the Klan a couple of years after its founding, when it proved itself to be a terrorist organization. In no way was I defending the Klan; far from it. I was simply pointing out an inconvenient truth that most historians would rather ignore.

Forrest was clearly no angel, but he did in fact disband the Klan, when it got out of hand, and a fair rendering of history should make that clear, which is all I was trying to do. If Forrest is to be reviled as the first Grand Wizard of the Klan, then he should be respected for disbanding it two years later.

If Forrest is rightly reviled for the massacre at Fort Pillow, he should also be respected as perhaps the greatest general and tactician either side produced in that bloody war. That was certainly Grant's opinion of him. Forrest may also have been the bravest, since he often fought at the head of his cavalry.

Yes, Forrest was a slave owner, but so were the majority of the Founders. That is no defense of Forrest, and it certainly is no defense of slavery, it is simply a fact. We need to try to understand by what twisted logic Thomas Jefferson could declare “all men are created equal”, and yet continue to enslave 200 human beings. This is the best I could come up with on that account in my book The Disappearing Cemetery:

Thomas Jefferson

Virginia beckons, even now

Dark earth upturned to heaving plow

A reverence for the land, I vow

To this I did my life endow

I gave my all to one true cause

To free this land from tyrant’s claws

But now am fallen for my flaws –

How swiftly dies polite applause

My enemies exaggerate

And draw dark marks upon my slate

So I am come to expiate

These charges laid on me of late

Indulge my pen, Good Sir, I pray

For speaking fills my mouth with clay

A man of parts in disarray

But once a god – or say they say

Yes, once a god – with lower “g”

The author of Our Liberty

But fallen now in history

For having failed to set slaves free

Or else for that on which fools dwell

Concerning love – how gossip sells!

No gentleman would kiss and tell

May gossips die and rot in Hell!

Forgive me this intemperate plea

But that has been my curse, you see

A man of Reason – nth degree

Yet Passion made a slave of me

Ill-chosen word, I must admit

And yet, that is the heart of it

For master must himself submit

To that which he would sooner quit

So of two minds, where should be one

How else explain the deeds I’ve done?

By my own hand I am undone

My shining star a sinking sun

I claim my sins, I’ll not deny

Nor Reason ever answer ‘why?’

But Phoenix rose, and so shall I

To shine again in starry sky

But let the sinless cast first stone

And judge me not on sins alone

Pray, let my greater deeds atone

Let not good be interred with bones

For I have learned this much, my Friend

That marble statues are not men

Though Good and Evil both portend

'Tis Good that triumphs in the end

When we turn historical figures into saints or satans, we cheat ourselves and posterity. In doing so, we turn them into caricatures and cartoons, rather than view them as men and women, with all their human foibles and flaws. We would do well to follow the example of Andrew Jackson's first biogrpaher, who called him an “atrocious saint”.

The same could be said of Forrest, as I tried to make clear with this poem in the same book:

Nathan Bedford Forrest

So you come to seek me out to learn what makes me tick

So you think a man who kills and likes it is plain sick

So what of you who comes to poke inside another’s head

And picks the flesh from off his bones and desecrates the dead?

First of all, I will admit, I did enjoy the fight

Particularly because the side I chose was in the right

You Yankee boys were quick to give the South all of the blame

But yo’r the ones who changed the rules when you tired of the game

I was not born of time and place to get to make the rules

I grew up poor and put upon by wealthy, privileged fools

But I was hard and held my ground and figured out a way

To play somebody else’s game and, by God, make it pay!

Then came some gentleman to say, “The game is over now;

You can no longer earn your bread upon some black man’s brow.”

While he sat idle at his desk and rode some poor man’s back

I saw no diff’rence save that one was white and one was black

I took to arms to keep my place, as any man would do

If being robbed of all his wealth and all his children’s, too

All that I earned through my device they wished to take away–

Damned right, I fought! And so would you, no matter what you say

By grace of God, I fought and lived, and not with timid heart

I grabbed the battle by the throat and tore their troops apart

I fought the war as I had fought to make my place in life

My saber running red with blood and plunging deep my knife

So now you come to seek me out and think you’re justified

In painting me maniacal and filled with foolish pride

But I did as all others did in that unholy Hell

And I submit my only sin was doing it too well

I confess, that after writing that, I looked up from the page and thought, "Where the hell did that come from?" I can't help but wonder if I was putting words in someone else's mouth, or they were putting words in mine. Be that as it may, I am not an apologist for Forrest, and certainly not for slavery. Evil is evil period, and it's hard to think of an evil worse than slavery, though extermination of a people may qualify.

Be that as it may, if we are to understand why there is still so much resentment over that war in the South a century and a half later, we would do well to acquaint ourselves with what the other side believes about those terrible times.

What went on before, during and after the Civil War was awful, but the history of that time is skewed. Like they say, history is written by the winners. If we are to learn from history, it must be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Views: 371

Comment by Maui Surfer on February 11, 2019 at 4:28pm

I am the one guilty of constantly referring to the Evil that is the KKK, and in fact commented on your post. I give Bedford credit for the disbandment, but, he is one semi-enlightened soul buried long ago. The Klan is live, kicking and cross burning to this day. While it is very admirable of you to be sure the truth is told of the first Tennessee chapter of this organization of scum, filth and bigoted killers, what is not well enough known are the points I made, that MILLIONS of White Haters were Klan members nationwide and marched, in Robes and Hoods, on Washington to make their evil intentions known to all. Photos of this march are available in approx. one second by Googling. Worse, the leader of the Indiana Klan you mention went down in scandal for one of the most heinous crimes against women, though, because she was White it was so badly received they also temporarily disbanded, despite the fact that they had raped millions of black women prior. That was my main point, other than the fact that they are still out in full force today, and, anyone watching Kamauu Bell's CNN documentary story of the current Klan scum has to laugh out loud as the older White Haters deny the existence of the KKK at all in this day and age, whereas when Bell approaches a White teenager, who is obviously normal and not a hater, he puts on a strange smile and points directly at Klan HQ, which Bell then visits where he is treated to a 2018 cross burning and threats to his well being for the crime of his dark pigmentation. What the vermin neglect to mention is there was never a cross burning recorded by the Klan, say the Tennessee version, though there are so many, until the Seditious D.W. Griffith portrayed it in his seminal racist tome BIRTH OF A NATION, shown proudly in the White House Theater by racist President Woodrow Wilson who apparently enjoyed watching white actors in blackface eat fried chicken and watermelon while threatening to rape white women, all after being elected legislators, which is the only factual part (the successful election of black legislators, not the rapes or fried chicken or black bare-feet in the State Capitol) of this horrific film, which grossed millions as it pandered to haters and was so offensive it had to have to versions, one to project on screen in the North, the other, even more horrendous, for the Southern Haters to get their sick kicks from. This is TRUTH.

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 4:31pm

Kosh   I'll drink to that. For all their faults, I consider the Founders the greatest assemblage of men the world has seen since the ancient Greeks, and perhaps the greatest assemblage at such a pivotal point in history.

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 4:37pm

Ron   Jefferson is one tough nut to crack. If you haven't read his original version of the Declaration, you should. In it, he took the King to task for what he called "the execrable commerce" of slavery. That kind of language can get you hung, which is why others among the Founders removed it from the official version of the Declaration. But Jefferson continued to use his version in his private letters.

How Jefferson was able to make that charge, while owning slaves himself, requires stretching reason beyond the breaking point. But as I'm fond of saying, none of us could last a day without rationalization.

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 4:40pm

Rosi   Thanks for the kind words. By my reckoning, when it comes to those in public office, policy is more important than the person. That said, the only clue as to whether a person will follow through on their stated policies is past behavior, and thus, character does count.

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 4:49pm

Maui    I'm sure you know I agree with you about the Klan, if we have a difference, it may be about what to do about it. Yes, it is to be confronted when necessary, but I believe it's demonstrations should be ignored whenever possible, and that's exactly what I did when they rallied in Orlando years ago. As my Native ancestors would tell you, shunning is one of the most effective forms of punishment.

As for the long run, I believe education is the only solution to the problem of racism, and the first thing an educator must do is tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth - though I leave plenty of room for conjecture and mythology, as long as they are identified as such. I believe that hatred, like sarcasm, poisons the deliverer as well as the receiver – though I must say Hair Trump is putting that proposition to the test.

Comment by alsoknownas on February 11, 2019 at 5:28pm

Ron,

 I mean this is the best way possible: Go to hell

I have truly tired of your approach to setting right the atrocious treatment of black people and your continuing stance of demeaning the intelligence of other writers here as it is a loser's approach to bringing people together.

I sure do not want you to leave as you present one of the greatest conundrums that face all of this in this time. Your own viewpoints are educational when presented without the vitriol and demeaning characterizations you are wont to use. You do far better than me masking your disdain but it doesn't fool me despite the numerous times you have told me I haven't the intelligence to converse with you.

Your chiding response is exactly what I would expect it to be: 'the criticism of their flawed thinking and/or their expression of it, has neither the inclination, nor the courage, to "get it right"..."

Comment by Ron Powell on February 11, 2019 at 5:45pm

Tom , there could be but one explanation and rationale for Jefferson's apparent ambivalence re slvery:

While he saw the enslavement of human beings as inherently evil and morally and ethically wrong, he did not, could not, bring himself to conclude that black people were human beings...

Aided by the generally held Christian tenet that unbaptized "heathens" were somehow subhuman creatures disfavored by God....

I've read Jefferson's original text and annotations thereof...

Jefferson wanted to load the Declaration of Independence like a prosecutor might load an indictment....

He may well have use the clauses/ passages re slavery as negotiating or bargaining chips had George III shown a willingness to bargain/negotiate with the Colonials rather than go to war while he was already at war with the French in Canada and elsewhere....We refer to that confli t as the 7 Years War....

Comment by Maui Surfer on February 11, 2019 at 6:14pm

T, no culture shuns like Hawaiians, we are at or near the top. However, so long as FIFTY-THREE percent of American Whites are for an unabashed and unashamed and un-shunned racist I will continue to go after them at every opportunity, and also shun them while they are here, you should see their pathetic responses, never before treated like the bad dogs they are, they sheepishly retreat, or hide in the bushes and stare. I tell you this, I fought them in the streets in the sixties with fists, rocks, knives, clubs and the "pigs" and Klansman responded with their cowardly guns. Were I twenty five years old today I would join Antifa in a heartbeat and have at it with those rat bastard hater scum all over again. It's on until we win, and not until then.

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 6:29pm

AKA   I understand how you feel, but for selfish reasons, I'd prefer that you stayed and continued to fight the good fight. But I'll certainly grant you, it ain't always easy. I am ceaselessly amazed when people like my brother, who I love with all my heart, suggest that hanging-out here and on Open Salon previously is "preaching to the choir". If so, it's a very discordant choir.

To wit, Maui's negative comments on my previous post inspired this one. Ron and I have crossed swords on race, and I understand his life experience is very different from mine. I try my best to make allowances based on my acceptance of R.D. Laing's dictum the "you can't experience the experience of my experience." 

Same goes for Kosher and I when it comes to Israel, my view being that the Jews have no legitimate claim to that land, other than some sort of imagined Divine Dispensation, which I view as self-serving bullshit, and as Aesop long ago observed, any excuse will do for a tyrant.

But I don't believe my contrary views are racist or anti-Semitic, I just disagree as to the the facts, at least as I perceive them. I would hope all of us here are engaged in a search for the truth, though I'm afraid a few here seem to just want to vent their frustrations at a world they believe has cheated them for whatever reason – that attitude strikes me as a convenient excuse for failure.

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on February 11, 2019 at 6:35pm

Hey, Maui...  seeing as how you like to act all "tough guy" *snort*, why aren't you giving the 14% of Black men who voted for Trump the same crap?  

BTW, I love it when people get all pissy pants about having the truth shown to them.  When they are as "truly tired" of racism & flaunting THEIR OWN WHITE PRIVILEGE (and actually do something to try to change it) I might feel differently.  Till then, I personally hope Ron keeps rubbing everyone's nose in it.

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