Andy Holt: Nathan Bedford Forrest, a civil rights leader

Excerpt from an op-ed piece by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, appearing in the Jackson Sun:

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.

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.

After the war, Gen. Forrest spoke with federal authorities controlling Memphis and the Memphis Board of Aldermen to plead with them to train young blacks so they would not be dependent on government. He argued that blacks were just as capable as whites to be doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. The same Memphis city leaders wanting to exhume his grave today, ignored his calls for allowing blacks equal opportunities then. However, that didn’t stop Gen. Forrest from living his own life as an example. Forrest was CEO of Selma, Marion & Memphis Railroad. As CEO, Gen. Forrest hired and trained hundreds of former slaves. He even granted them leadership positions within the company.

…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… In fact, recognizing his will to exercise “moral authority,” the United States Congress recognized Forrest’s efforts to dismantle the Klan in 1871.

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. 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.