GUEST COLUMN: Myths of Nathan Bedford Forrest

I believe in the teachings of Nathan Bedford Forrest: "Although we differ
in color, we should not differ in sentiment."

In "Eartha M.M. White superior to Forrest," a guest columnist absorbed
propaganda and folk legend, blended them with misdirected anger and offered
them as history.

Forrest was a successful slave dealer, but renowned for his humane policies.
He purchased broken families and reunited them. He purchased slaves from abusive
masters to protect them. He refused to sell slaves to people he knew to be abusive.
He gave newly purchased slaves passes so they could seek out their new masters.

When the war started, 45 male slaves chose to ride with Forrest on the promise
of freedom if the South won. They served as combat soldiers and Forrest’s personal
armed bodyguards.

Eighteen months after the war started, Forrest became convinced the South would
lose and he would die in combat, so he freed these men. All of them stayed with

The author cited the Fort Pillow massacre and asserted that "there was
no Nuremberg trial for Forrest." This is clear misstatement of history.

In 1871, Congress convened a committee to investigate Fort Pillow. Chairman
William Tecumseh Sherman, Forrest’s greatest enemy, was quoted before the hearing
began as saying "We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try
Forrest, convict Forrest and hang Forrest."

When the committee considered written evidence and firsthand testimony, it
concluded there was no Fort Pillow Massacre.

There were "incidents on the riverbank," which the committee acknowledged
Forrest stopped as soon as he arrived on the scene.

Union officers admitted there was never a surrender of the Union forces.

Forrest did take 39 black soldiers prisoner and turned them over to his superiors
while he transferred the 14 most seriously wounded black Union soldiers to the
U.S. steamer Silver Cloud, hardly acts that would qualify as "war crimes."

Forrest did have his "Nuremberg trial" and was found innocent.

The author wrote that "Forrest founded the KKK and became its first Grand
Wizard." We can again thank the 1871 congressional investigation for resolving
that allegation.

The official conclusions were that Forrest did not found the KKK, that he was
not its first Grand Wizard and that he was working to have it disbanded.

On July 4, 1875, in Memphis, Forrest gave a speech to a black political and
social organization, the Jubilee of Pole Bearers. Among the statements he made
that day:

"We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live in the same
land, and why should we not be brothers and sisters.

"I want to elevate every man, and to see you take your places in your
shops, stores and offices.

"I feel that you are free men, I am a free man, and we can do as we please.
I came here as a friend and whenever I can serve any of you I will do so. We
have one union, one flag, one country; therefore, let us stand together. Although
we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment.

"Do your duty as citizens, and if any are oppressed, I will be your friend.
I thank you for the flowers, and assure you that I am with you in heart and

The Duval County School Board should not change the name of Forrest High School,
but instead educate students and teachers to Forrest’s true sentiments of reconciliation
and unity.

They still have weight today.

© Copyright The Florida Times-Union

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