Theft deserves punishment: In Selma, vandals reopen wounds over Forrest, Civil War

The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Mar 28, 2012

On or around the night of March 9, someone took the bronze bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from atop its 7-foot-tall granite monument in Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery.

Considering the subject, location and history of the whole matter, it is not surprising that there are many who want to treat this as more than an act of theft.

Who Nathan Bedford Forrest was — and what he means to those who are still debating what the Civil War was about — gets to the very heart of a disagreement with little if any common ground.

That Forrest was a military genius is beyond doubt. That he was self-taught and not one of the West Point-educated commanders gives him a common-man appeal that makes him one with the ancestors of most descendents of Confederate soldiers. To many, he is the personification of the lost cause — the unreconstructed rebel who refused to accept defeat for what it was. And he is admired for it.

That Forrest was a slave trader before the war and was involved with the Ku Klux Klan afterward is also part of the general’s biography, though just what his role in the Klan was is still debated. Those two elements of the man, along with his association with the killing of surrendered black federal troops at the battle of Fort Pillow, have made some to consider him one of the most reviled members of the Confederate officer corps.

For the group that lionizes Forrest, putting up a monument near the site of his last battle was fitting. Besides, it is neither the only statue nor the largest statue raised in his honor.

To the group that feels otherwise, raising a statue of a slave trader and Klansman in the city that was at the heart of the civil rights movement was an in-your-face insult to black men and women who struggled to overcome the lost-cause legacy Forrest represented.

The missing monument has again opened these wounds. Judging from the recent heated rhetoric, little has changed since the bust first appeared more than a decade ago.

One would hope reason would prevail and that people of good will (and Selma has many) would find a way to reconcile the two sides, but that is unlikely to happen.

What remains, therefore, is to treat the incident as what it is — a theft.

No matter what motivated the perpetrators, the simple fact is they took something that did not belong to them. For that, they should be caught and punished as the law requires.

© 2012 Anniston Star

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