If you want a sense of how obsessed some Confederate heritage advocates are about the battle flag look no further. I came across this gem of a thread on the Confederate Flaggers Facebook page earlier today and it doesn’t disappoint. Billy Bearden is an active Flagger and on occasion will share a thought or two on this site. I like having him around. Once in a while he offers something worthy of reflection, but this clearly represents a walk off the deep end.
No one on this page seems to know why the Covington (Tenn.) chapter of the SCV chose to remove the battle flag from the cemetery in favor of a First National Flag and as far as I can tell no one has bothered to ask. I actually don’t have a problem with the display of battle flags in Confederate cemeteries. It seems to me that the people who are offended by the symbol are not likely to visit and if its presence helps those who wish to commemorate/remember these men than so be it. Perhaps the group removed it because the battle flag has proven to be too much of a distraction from the men they wish to honor. Perhaps the group understands that their ability to reach out to the broader community will be hampered by all the negative attention that particular flag will likely generate. Ultimately, what is more important, debating the divisive history of the flag or sharing the stories of the men the SCV are committed to honoring and a time when that project is under assault?
As the report indicates, notably absent is any representation from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This is a huge mistake. Yes, spokesmen such as Lee Millar have made some absurd claims about Forrest, but the SCV is an important stakeholder in this discussion and their perspective deserves to be heard. The Memphis City Council should embrace every opportunity to openly discuss the relevant historical, social, and racial issues surrounding these public parks and their continued maintenance. Keeping the SCV out of these discussions will only fuel suspicion and outrage among a certain demographic. I for one would love to see the SCV make the case for their preferred position to the entire city of Memphis.
With this latest news it looks like the city council has taken a giant leap backward.
This week I am going to write an essay for my column at the Atlantic on the recent controversy surrounding the renaming of Forrest Park in Memphis, Tennessee. Court Carney’s 2001 JSH essay on Forrest and historical memory has been incredibly helpful in placing this most recent incident within a much broader context. I highly recommend it to those of you who are interested in Forrest and his place in our collective memory.
We just want everyone to know that we are here to protect and preserve our history and do it in a gentlemanly fashion. [emphasis added]
You may remember that a few weeks ago Millar referred to Forrest as a “humane slave trader.” What I find interesting is Millar’s and the SCV’s appropriation of Forrest’s history as their own. The problem is that no one individual or organization can claim sole ownership of Forrest’s legacy and in this case it seems to me that the KKK has a legitimate claim to honoring the man. They will likely want to single out Forrest’s growth during the antebellum years into one of Tennessee’s wealthiest slaveholders as well as his presence at Fort Pillow and early leadership of the Klan itself. That seems to me to be as legitimate a claim as one will find among the major stakeholders who admire Forrest.
As I pointed out before, this places the SCV in a very difficult position. Nothing that Millar or anyone else in the SCV has said challenges the Klan’s embrace of Forrest. This could prove to be a very messy and uncomfortable event for the SCV given that they agree with the Klan’s position that the park should not have been renamed.
Klan members are likely to parade in Memphis with the Confederate flag on March 30. The SCV can bring their own flags as well, but they run the risk of being identified with the Klan. If they decide to stand up against the Klan in a show of solidarity with the general public they not only will be aligned with those who believe the park should be renamed, but they also will have acknowledged the very facts about Forrest that they have spent so much time either minimizing or denying.
Forrest was known as a very humane slave trader…. He never split families.
That, my friends, is a morally bankrupt position. What I find truly startling, however, is that anyone would go ahead and actually make this point on television for public consumption. Millar certainly deserves some kind of award. At least H.K. Edgerton decided to leave the costume at home. Their only hope last night was that the state government would step in with legislation that would make it illegal to change the names of parks named after military leaders. You gotta love the irony in that.
Regardless of whether they like it or not, it’s time for Confederate heritage advocates to adopt a new strategy. No one should have been surprised by the council’s decision, least of all the SCV. They should have from the beginning jumped on board with a name change that added Ida B. Wells to the park. Now they stand to lose Forrest completely from the landscape.
And when you say idiotic things about “human slave traders” you deserve to lose it all.