Restoration of Ku Klux Klan Leader’s Monument Riles Up Debate

A monument in honor of the Ku Klux Klan’s original “Grand Wizard”, Nathan Bedford Forrest, is getting renovated in Selma, Alabama this month. The Friends of Forrest organization in the small town have announced that they plan to resurrect the monument after it was officially moved from public property shortly after 2000, NBC reports.

Before its removal from public property in 2001, people had participated in outright protests in which they performed a mock lynching and threw trash at the figure. Earlier this year, the bust of Forrest was stolen from its pedestal and now both the Friends of Forrest and the United Daughters of the Confederacy have ordered a new bust and plan to put up extra fencing to protect the monument from further attacks.

The monument has done anything but soothe racial tensions in Alabama and across the country. Forrest was not only a general in the Civil War who mercilessly killed as many as 250 black soldiers during his campaigns, he was also the first head of the Ku Klux Klan. Democratic Senator Hank Sanders pointed out to WSFA 12 News that General Forrest unnecessarily killed surrendered black soldiers who no longer posed an active threat during the Civil War. In his own words:

Here’s a man who killed African-Americans who had surrendered, who were not a threat to anybody, (who)formed the Ku Klux Klan… And yet we are talking about a monument to him.

Sanders is among many thousands of people who are pushing the Selma City Council to stop the restoration of a monument to a person who incited and led racist movements during a violent and dark period in United States history. His name is nearly synonymous with white supremacist movements the world over. Just think of the film ‘Forrest Gump,’ in which the main character explains the origins of his name while historic footage plays of Klan members riding horses.

Currently the monument sits on an acre of land that is currently under contestation. Sanders has argued that the land is owned by the city while members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy have argued that it is private property owned by the organization.

Supporters of the monument’s restoration believe their rights have been infringed upon while building an even larger monument than the one that went up back in 2000. One man from the Friends of Forrest, Todd Kiscaden, told WSFA that Forrest was an exemplary person, stating:

I recommend this man to model his life after… He always led from the front.  He did what he said he was going to do.  He took care of his people, and his people included both races.

A wider and more general consensus has clearly sided with the idea that General Forrest is an icon of American racism at its most extreme. Malika Sanders-Fortier has made perhaps the most salient point about why the monument is upsetting, “Monuments celebrating violent racism and intolerance have no place in this country, let alone in a city like Selma, where the families of those attacked by the Klan still live.”

The restoration of the monument has brought back the very real legacy of Civil War and Jim Crow racism. The city council will face an uphill battle if they decide to pursue a removal of the bust because the land most likely falls under the control of private groups and not the city.

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Photo Credit: Culby


Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Pam, that is a fascinating historical story. I really appreciate first hand historical accounts from ordinary folks (you know like you and me). The late, great Howard Zinn wrote a book called "A People's History of the United States" where he looked at history from the perspective of working class people, you know the folks who actually doid most of the working, sweating, living, and dying in our history.

It was his argument that it was where true history was located and that the "great man" history that most of us was taught was misleading and of limited value.

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

Yes...much of it was PERSONAL rather than political but so many had no recourse. One of my ancestors lived on a small but fine horse property and, after the war, it was taken from her, since she had harbored "war criminals." Those criminals were her husband and her son, both of whom had come home to die of their injuries. The widow was sitting on land somebody wanted....and there you had it.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Like you Pam, my Southern ancestors (generally yoeman farmers themselves) were devestated during Reconstruction, but that had more to with the effects of the war and the post-war economy of Alabama than Union policies.

Actually, considering that our Southernn ancestors were engaged in armed rebellion against the government it could have been a lot worse. In other countires they would have hung my Southern ancestors for treason. Glad that didn't happen (LOL).

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Thanks Pam, although along the same note, the idea that "Reconstruction" was so terrible is also an area that the Lost Cause has effected. Initially Reconstruction was very gentle, but the Southern states refused to ratify the 13th Amendment and passed "black codes" reducing the newly freed slaves to status of semi-slavery. Basically the South gave a big middle finger to the Union after the loss of the war.

The result was "Radical Reconstruction" where the South was divided into military districts and had to "earn" their way back to full statehood. It was not as pleasant, but it was hardly the sort of nonsense that is depicted in popular culture (Gone with the Wind, etc.)

The war had ravaged the South and times were hard, but the idea that the Union "victimized" the South after the war is largely untrue. Most of the so-called "carpetbaggers" were educators and humanitarians who came to the South to help (particularly the newly freed slaves). Certainly there were some opportunists who came to enrich themselves at the South's expense, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

It is actually a fascinating area of study.

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

I owe you a star for that, Kevin!

Carl, it must be tricky to understand what happened in this nation due to slavery, greed and a sincere desire to destroy what was left after the war was over. My father's family were all southern....some slave-owners, most not....but all equally devastated by "reconstruction."

Deliberate financial ruin, imposition of taxes designed to remove all property and all possibility of self-reliance imposed by a "victor" have resulted in some odd "values"

I understand this, without sharing the attitude.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Carl - You bring up some interesting points, however I do not believe the issue is about white-washing history, on the contrary, it is about doing a true reassesment of historical reality.

I am not sure if you are familiar with the "Lost Cause." This was a psuedo-historical rationalization that took root after the Civil War. It included basic tenets, these included the denial or marginalization of slavery as a cause of the war and a romanticized version of slavery in the antebellum South; the denial of any true defeat of Confederate military forces; the deification of certain Confederate leaders, most importantly General Robert E. Lee.

When you hear someone today saying "the Civil War wasn't about slavery" they are repeating a Lost Cause lie. I was raised in the South and have a deep and abiding respect for its heritage, but that heritage includes fighting a war in order to keep four million human beings enslaved. That cannot be white-washed.

Forrest was an outstanding general and a horrible, murderous, racist individual. In a time when racism was rampant, he was among the very worst. Monuments should tell actual history, not politically motivated fairy tales and the herofication of Forrest is on of the worst of those fairy tales.

Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen3 years ago

What can be expressed in public depends on what sort of society you want - one where the public space is for everybody or one where the public space is for those who happen to be in power. As I understand it a great many people in the US South take great pride in their cultural heritage including the Confederate Battle flag, their military leaders etc., so you are actively promoting the suppresion of the culture of a great many people, which IMHO ought to be a no-go in a society caring about the freedom of the individual.

Besides I think its a kind of cowardice when you want to sort of edit away the parts of your history you are sort of unhappy with in some attempt to make it forgotten and/or to fit better with the public "truth".

And who says a person cannot be a hero AND an evil SOB at the same time?

pam w.
pam w.3 years ago

The issue really does focus on public versus private property. If you want to erect a statue of this man in your front yard....more power to you (although I'd expect vandalism....just saying.)

If it's on publicly-supported land....well,'s all different, isn't it?

Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen3 years ago

Freedom of expression includes the right to expressions you disagree with, believe to be evil etc.
A great many people display pictures of Che who by others is viewed as a evil terrorist, why not b an that too then.

No - if someone want a statue of Forrest it is their human right to have it and not to be persecuted for it. If you cannot accept that you are no better than what you claim to oppose!

Sarah G.
Sarah G.3 years ago

To Pamela D.: Bite me