A Confederate debate
Black man says Forrest should stay on MTSU hall
By BYRON HENSLEY
Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest had at least one black supporter in Murfreesboro
H.K. Edgerton, a black Southern heritage activist and former president of the
Ashville, N.C., branch of the NAACP, was in town briefly to show support to
MTSU students who are mounting a petition drive to keep Forrest’s name on MTSU’s
military science building.
"How very proud I am of them. They are standing against Southern cultural
genocide," Edgerton said of the students while wearing a Confederate uniform
and holding a Confederate flag at the Confederate monument on the Rutherford
County Courthouse Square.
MTSU’s Student Government Association, presented with a petition signed by
205 members of the MTSU community, recently voted to recommend that Forrest’s
name be stricken from the Forrest Hall building. Another MTSU group has since
mounted a counter-petition to keep the name of Forrest, considered by many to
have been a founder of the original Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War.
"The Ku Klux Klan under Nathan Bedford Forrest was certainly not a terrorist
organization," Edgerton said. "Not only was Nathan Bedford Forrest
a great Confederate general, he was a great American."
Some have criticized honoring Forrest on campus because he was a slave trader
before the war. Edgerton said in that role Forrest helped many black families
by keeping them together. Forrest also had 42 black soldiers under his command
during the Civil War, he said.
"Forty-two black men rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest," he said.
"They don’t talk about the place of honor they earned."
Edgerton maintained that the South seceded from the Union not to preserve slavery,
but because of the effects on the Southern economy of federal tariffs.
Edgerton gained some notoriety in 2002, when he undertook a 1,300-mile march
across the South dressed in Confederate uniform and carrying the Confederate
flag, criticized by many as a symbol of slavery. He said he was well received
by other blacks as he made the trip.
"All across America, folks who looked like me said they were glad to see
Johnny’s come marching home," he said.
"I walked through the heart of the South. All along the way, black folks
came out and brought me love, and brought me food. They said how proud they
were of me. … With many of the black folks I’ve run into, there’s been a resonance
across the board that this is our flag, too."
"How are you going to think of this flag as a flag of slavery? … Any
black man in American who wants to pick up this flag should know this is his
as much as any white man’s in America."
He blamed Northerners who came to the South following the Civil War during
the Reconstruction period for working to separate black and white Southerners.
In addition to his association with the Ku Klux Klan, Forrest’s reputation
as a racist also comes from an incident known as the Fort Pillow Massacre, in
which many black soldiers were killed. Edgerton said that the killing occurred
because Union soldiers in the fort refused to surrender, and that Forrest was
later exonerated of wrongdoing in the incident by the U.S. Congress.
The Union was also involved in atrocities against black people in the South,
"What about all the atrocities committed by Sherman? He didn’t put a cross
over any black man’s door. What about all the black soldiers who were forced
to join the Union army?"
Edgerton was in town at the invitation of Todd Gober, president of the local
chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans.
"He is, I believe, the best well-known and best-spoken black Confederate,"
Gober said. "He is very committed to the defense of our Confederate symbols."
Copyright ©2006 The Daily News Journal
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