Recognizing Confederate History Month in Memphis, TN

I can’t think of a better way to recognize Confederate History Month than with a historical marker that acknowledges an important aspect of that history. Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Calvary Episcopal Church, Rhodes College, and National Park Service unveiled a historical marker in Memphis describing Nathan Bedford Forrest’s role in the city’s slave trade.

Here is a bit more from the marker text:

From 1854 to 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest operated a profitable slave trading business at this site. In 1826, Tennessee had prohibited bringing enslaved people into the state for the purpose of selling them. As cotton and slavery grew in importance, the legislature repealed the ban in 1855. Starting that year, Memphis emerged as a regional hub for the slave trade. In addition to the more than 3,000 enslaved people who lived and worked in Memphis at the time, thousands more flowed into and out of the city, as traders and their agents brought a steady supply of human cargo into town via roads, river, and rail. In 1864, Forrest purchased this property on Adams, between Second and Third, just east of an alley behind Calvary Episcopal Church. Most slaves were sold at lots like this one before ending up on plantations in the Mississippi Delta or further south. Horatio Eden, sold from Forrest’s yard as a child, remembered the place as a ‘square stockade of high boards with two room Negro houses around. … We were all kept in these rooms, but when an auction was held or buyers came, we were brought out and paraded two or three around a circular brick wall in the center of the stockade. The buyers would stand nearby and inspect us as we went by, stop us, and examine us.’ …

The focus on Forrest’s involvement in the slave trade provides the foundation for understanding his role in the Civil War. Even if it is not explicitly acknowledged in the text it is clear why Forrest chose to fight for a government that was committed to protecting the right to trade, purchase, and own black bodies.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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25 comments… add one
  • John Sweeney Apr 6, 2018 @ 4:33


    This is probably off topic, but I posted it where is was definitely on-topic, and you have not responded. (If you need to, please move it to an appropriate topic, then answer it.). So I am asking again, what do you think of these two articles and which one is closer to the truth?

    Thank you.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 6, 2018 @ 4:52

      I am not a Second Amendment expert. Sorry.

  • Matthew Tenney Apr 6, 2018 @ 1:50

    If Forrest just viewed his slave trade as a way to make money, then it’s not clear to me why Forrest “chose to fight for a government that was committed to protecting …” New laws occasionally put small and even large companies out of business but those companies don’t advocate secession or war. There must be a lot more to it than just that. Perhaps there is a perverse pleasure in control of lives or of watching others suffer.

  • Bob Huddleston Apr 5, 2018 @ 13:30

    One question about the reference in your italicized portion: did NBF purchase land in Memphis in 1864 for a slave yard? I suspect this is a typo for 1854!

  • Connie Chastain Apr 5, 2018 @ 11:25

    Y’all are still all about drumming up hatred for white Southerners…..

    • Kevin Levin Apr 5, 2018 @ 11:30

      One day we are going to learn that Connie Chastain is a bot.

    • HankC Apr 5, 2018 @ 15:08

      I’m a white southerner. Can’t say I feel the hate.

    • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 5, 2018 @ 17:20

      You are all about drumming up silliness. Bless your heart.

  • MARGARET D BLOUGH Apr 5, 2018 @ 9:13

    A must-read is Frederic Bancroft’s 1931 classic “Slave-Trading in the Old South” (I recommend the University of South Carolina Press’s 1996 “Southern Classics” edition with the foreword by Michael Tadman). Most of the discussions we see in the popular press about the slave trade clearly are referencing the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which legally ended in 1808 (although illegal smuggling continued up to the Civil War.). As significant, serious, and tragic as that massive trade was, it’s a serious mistake to miss the size and economic significance of the internal, intra-state slave trade in the US. That includes leasing as well as outright sale. One of the best points of Bancroft’s book is WHEN he did his research. Born just before the Civil War, Bancroft was able to interview people, both white and Black, who were actively involved, as adults, in all aspects of the internal slave trade.
    I think the marker is important not just in terms of a more objective, inclusive treatment of history but this is where the fact that someone as well-known historically as Forrest was so heavily involved can be used as entry point for people just learning about the subject.

    • Bob Huddleston Apr 5, 2018 @ 13:37

      Bancroft is one of the saddest books I have ever read. I could only read a chapter of two before putting it down for a week or so.

      As Margaret says, there are lots of familiar CW names among those Bancroft interviewed.

      BTW, the Bancroft Prize, awarded each year by the trustees of Columbia University for books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas, was established by a bequest from Frederick Bancroft.

      • Kevin Levin Apr 5, 2018 @ 13:39

        Kytle and Roberts spend a good deal of time discussing Bancroft in their new book, Denmark Vesey’s Garden.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 5, 2018 @ 6:14

    Kevin, you are not seeing the big picture. Soon there will be a new battle flag along some interstate somewhere. πŸ™‚

    But seriously, this marker is terrific. I once found an 1859 Memphis newspaper ad that stated he had 500 (yes, five hundred) newly acquired slaves to sell. However, this marker is even more powerful than that number. I think that by noting that Forrest was selling six people who were smuggled into the country in violation of Federal law says quite enough, about him and many other things.

    • David Hubbard Apr 5, 2018 @ 10:52

      who smuggled them into the country in violation of Federal law?

      • Kevin Levin Apr 5, 2018 @ 11:28

        Yes Eric, who smuggled them in? πŸ™‚

        • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 5, 2018 @ 17:18

          Well it wasn’t Santa Claus. πŸ™‚

          • David Hubbard Apr 5, 2018 @ 21:06

            That’s your answer? Also, Add to that, what flag was flying on the ships that went to Africa, and how much reluctance/resistance did the tribal chiefs have to deter from “selling” their own people?

            • Kevin Levin Apr 6, 2018 @ 2:00

              Yeah Eric, bet you haven’t heard that argument before. Get ’em Dave. πŸ™‚

            • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 6, 2018 @ 9:28

              Yes, David, the flag which was flown (if the illegal vessel even had one) somehow eliminates Forrest’s role in the affair, doesn’t it? πŸ™‚

              Kevin, you know it was all the fault of the U. S. government, i.e. Yankees, and the black tribal leaders. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

              • David Hubbard Apr 6, 2018 @ 21:14

                Actually, yall project a scenario as if “Yankees” had nothing to do with slavery especially selling them in the South , or likewise any other part of it.
                So, That’s what I figured… BUT …. you won’t/can’t answer without spinning like the liberals you are. forget it, this page doesn’t need any more hits.

                • Kevin Levin Apr 7, 2018 @ 2:38

                  You clearly have not read much of this blog. I guess in the end we see what we want to see.

                  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 7, 2018 @ 8:16

                    Kevin, he thinks I am a liberal!! Funny stuff. πŸ™‚

                    • Kevin Levin Apr 7, 2018 @ 9:35

                      That’s all he has left. You can at least leave him with that. πŸ™‚

  • Louis Drew Apr 5, 2018 @ 4:12

    A sad and shameful part of our history, but it should be, must be, remembered…

    • Scott Ledridge Apr 5, 2018 @ 4:22

      Agreed. Remembered for what it was. But, not in ways that romanticize and memorialize it.

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