Uncivil War Down South: African Americans Reject Monument to Late KKK-Chief

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[National Report]

African Americans Oppose Bust for a former KKK-chief

In Selma, Alabama, the hotbed of civil rights struggles in the 60’s, there’s a heated battle being waged against a monument honoring a Civil War general by blocking its construction.

A statute of General Nathan Bedford Forrest was unveiled in a city park back in 2000. The Friends of Forrest, the group behind the monument, was forced to move it to a private cemetery after being subjected to numerous forms of damage by people offended by Forrest’s bloody history.

In March 2012, the life-size bronze bust vanished. Calling itself a historical society, Friends of Forrest, has offered $20,000 for the return of the bust, and plan to replace it with another on an even taller pedestal, guarded by an iron fence and a surveillance camera.

Civil War era General Forrest was accused of war crimes by allowing his troops to massacre Black Union troops and their officers after they had surrendered in the 1864 Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee.

At least 300 Black soldiers, civilians, children as young as seven, were murdered after surrendering to the Confederates. Forrest claimed that the troops, though fleeing, refused to put down their weapons and he was forced to shoot them, or kill them with bayonets and sabers.

Any debate as to whether the massacre was racially motivated was put to rest after the Civil War when Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. During his reign, Forrest terrorized Black people.

It’s interesting to note that one of the major proponents fighting for the construction of this monument is the president of the Selma City Council, Cecil Williamson. Williamson has a long history of involvement with White supremacy groups such as the John Birch Society and the League of the South.

Hank Sanders, Alabama State Senator representing Selma, along with his wife Rose, is challenging the building of the monument to General Nathan Bedford Forest.  “In spite of the fact that the Selma City Council was presented this evidence and other detailed evidence of Williamson’s racism, they failed to vote him out of the office of President of Council” Sanders tells The Black Star News.  In an August 20, 2012 press release, Hank Sanders said "black soldiers who had surrendered were murdered in cold blood at Fort Pillow, Tennessee during the Civil War." He added: "There is already a monument to Forrest at Live Oak Cemetery.  We do not need a bigger monument of Forrest in Selma, the symbol for voting rights and freedom all over the world.”

Out of nine council members, four voted to support the bust, while five opposed.

It’s clear that Pat Godwin, a member of Friends of Forrest, has a very different view of history. Here is how Godwin reacted in an online article in the American Civil War Forum: “Selma had the opportunity to tell Rose Sanders to SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP.”  Of the White council members who voted against the bust, she concluded:  “It was the one white woman, Jean Martin, the council president George Evans and councilwoman Nancy Sewell who betrayed us.”  Regarding the two Black council members who supported them she observed:  “These two black men were the honorable ones and lived up to their word and convictions that they did the right thing.”

Does Godwin feel any sympathy for the 300 Black troops slaughtered by General Forrest?  She wrote that “a vote to support the bust would have been great for Selma, but instead the Council chose to fight the Friends of Forrest and deny Selma her history, heritage and the opportunity to enhance our tourism income.”

Sanders, an African American lawyer, radio host and wife to Hank Sanders has been vocal over the Selma airways in opposition to the bust. She has also been involved in the protests to block the erection of the new monument. “Glorifying Nathan B. Forrest here is like glorifying a Nazi in Germany," she says, "for Selma, of all places, to have a big monument to a Klansman is totally unacceptable.”

This gutsy legal eagle has been slammed with the title of “domestic terrorist” by Cecil Williamson and Pat Godwin of the Friends of Forrest organization for her fight to assure that a man many consider to be a "bloody racist" is not honored in a city park. African Americans, as taxpayers, also have a say as to how the park is used.

Williamson and Godwin argue that calling attorney Sanders a domestic terrorist is just a political statement, suggesting that the intent was not to accuse her of a crime.

Sanders says accusing someone of a crime is not protected speech – even if she is a public figure.  Rose Sanders sued Cecil Williamson and Pat Godwin for defamation. To date, local Selma judges familiar with the case have recused themselves. The court is now trying to secure a judge from a nearby county to adjudicate the case.

Todd Kiscaden, overseeing the construction and a Friends of Forrest member, actually had the audacity to compare the Forrest monument to the statute in Selma of a great civil rights leader. “There’s a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. in town," he says. "We don’t deface that monument. We don’t harass people. So let us enjoy the same treatment.”

How could he compare a man of peace with one who directed a massacre?

Bishop Travis L. Grant, National Field Director of Operation Push, as well as Charles Steel, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, descended on the Selma court room on Tuesday, September 25, in support of Rose Sanders and her battle to stop construction of the Forrest monument.

The city council subsequently voted 4-0 to suspend work on the Forrest monument. This fight is far from over however, Sanders says.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

Please express your outrage and opposition to the building of this monument to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest by emailing Mayor George Evans at mayoroffice@selma-al.gov, Thomas C. Atchison at tatchison@pittsandpitts.com, Angela Benjamin at abenjamin@ward4selma.com, Greg J. Bjelke at gbjelk84@gmail.com, Corey D. Bowie at coreybowie2012@gmail.com, Susan  
Keith at susanmkeith@aol.com, Samuel L. Randolph at srandolphs@aol.om, and Cecil Williamson at cresenthill@mindspring.com.   

Emails to Bennie Ruth Crenshaw and Bennie L. Tucker should be sent to the Council Secretary at councilsecretary@selma-al.gov
Contact information for petition signers in your area can be arranged upon request by contacting William Winters, Senior 

Campaigner Change.org via press@change.org or (202) 684-2552.

Note: The Annual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee has added a new feature. On Saturday, March 2, 2012, the parade will feature a mock burial and resurrection ceremony in order to teach youth across the country the lessons of resistance, and the history of struggle and triumph. The ceremony signals the burial of the likes of Nathan Bedford Forrest; and self hatred and white supremacy. It heralds resurrection, healing and excellence. Rose Sanders hopes this opening ceremony will serve as a prototype to be duplicated across country.

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