It’s often said that General Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan. This is true. He was also a slave trader in his early life. Basically Hitler, right?
What’s not taught is that he founded the Klan as a kind of philosophy club and then worked with the government to disband the Klan once they turned violent. Forrest spent his last years working on improving race relations. His last public appearance was in 1875 at a speech he gave to a group of black people working for peaceful race relations, during which a black woman gave him a bouquet of flowers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) This day is a day that is proud to me, having occupied the position that I did for the past twelve years, and been misunderstood by your race. This is the first opportunity I have had during that time to say that I am your friend. I am here a representative of the southern people, one more slandered and maligned than any man in the nation.
I will say to you and to the colored race that men who bore arms and followed the flag of the Confederacy are, with very few exceptions, your friends. I have an opportunity of saying what I have always felt – that I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered. I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.
I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, that you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Use your best judgment in selecting men for office and vote as you think right.
Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed. 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.” (Prolonged applause.)”
He was strongly criticized by other whites for giving this speech.
He also had offered his services to General Sherman for the war with Spain in 1873, despite the latter’s scorched earth rape (literal and metaphorical) of the deep south.
This is not a man full of pride and bitterness, even with his major financial problems after the war. Forrest sought to make the world a better place and in different ways at different times of his life. His life is an example of how people can change and grow and take responsibility for their actions. He didn’t just sit around stewing at his losses. Forrest was a proactive force in the world who was never satisfied with “good enough.”
His early life was marked by gambling and dueling and slave trading, but he showed that you don’t have to be defined by your past. It’s never too late to do good.
And as a military commander, he showed the power of will and raw intelligence, being one of the most genius tacticians this country has ever seen despite enlisting as a private with no formal military education.
But you don’t hear any of that. History is taught like a comic book with clear heroes and villains. In reality, history is full of mixed motivations and nuances. People can do wrong for the right reasons and do right for the wrong reasons. But instead today it’s just assumed that blacks can do no wrong and southern whites can do no right.
Forrest, if anything, should be an example of how to overcome racism (whatever that word even means) and how both sides in a conflict have a responsibility to forgive instead of perpetuate a bitter Marxist class struggle for the next two centuries. He did his best, for better or worse, to make America great again. His story is a story of personal responsibility and introspection, the two ideas Democrat voters hate the most.