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Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 in Places, Politics, Society | 0 comments

The Living, Ever-Present Past

The state of Mississippi wants to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest with a commemorative license plate.

It’s difficult to find an Internet biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest that doesn’t speak of him in the most glowing, reverential terms — with, of course, no mention of his leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan. However, this PBS article provides some very graphic details of the kinds of actions the Klan was responsible for in the post-Reconstruction period, when Southern whites were reestablishing white supremacist rule in the former Confederate states. Here are some statistics on lynchings between 1882 and 1968, although as the editorial note on the site points out, it’s impossible to know how many of these were directly organized or carried out by the Klan, or even how many lynchings and other murders and acts of terrorism never made it into the official record.

Perhaps, next, Mississippi can put out a commemorative license plate for Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, or Edgar Ray Killen (the probable leader of the mob of 18 members of the Ku Klux Klan who beat and murdered James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner). Heck, maybe in the spirit of healthy competition, Alabama can issue a set of commemorative stamps to honor Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Cash, and Thomas Blanton for their excellent demolitions expertise.

But let me end by remembering that at least one renowned Mississippian possessed a measure of wisdom.