Update: I didn’t see this one coming, but it is nice to see the SCV and NAACP working together in opposition to the Klan’s planned rally in Memphis next month. Millar shows that he should have been included in the city’s panel to re-name Forrest Park. Pastor Norman is quite impressive in his own right. Last week Millar described Forrest as a “benevolent slave trader” and in his interview suggests that Forrest disbanded the Klan, which really didn’t have much to do with white supremacy to begin with. It’s a tough sell and ultimately a losing proposition. Regardless of how you interpret Forrest’s personal history the excerpt below clearly shows that the dedication of the monument had everything to do with Memphis’s racial climate in 1905.
A number of you have emailed me requesting additional information on the historical context of the unveiling of the Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial in Memphis in 1905. I mentioned the other day that the best source I’ve found is Court Carney’s Journal of Southern History essay, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest” (August 2001).
According to Carney the Forrest memorial in Memphis can be traced to a number of factors, most importantly, the economic downturn that the city faced in the period immediately following the war and especially the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. The epidemic hit the white community especially hard and by the end of the century African Americans had risen to constitute half of the city’s population. The elite white population that was lost during the epidemic was replaced, according to Carney, by an influx of rural whites, who were much “less racially tolerant than their urban contemporaries.”
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