Nathan Bedford Forrest – Separating Fact from Fiction

Massacre of 300 blacks SOURCE:

2004 mockumentary (A mockumentary (a portmanteau of the words mock and documentary) is a type of film or television show in which fictional events are presented in documentary style to create a parody) C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America – a slave narrator cites Nathan Bedford Forrest as the leader of a Confederate army that massacred hundreds of freed slaves in the North shortly after the Civil War, possibly an alternate reference to the Fort Pillow Massacre.

Actual FACTS: In one of the most controversial actions during the short assault, the Confederates shot down a number of Union soldiers in the beach area while many defending survivors drowned while trying to escape by swimming the Mississippi River. The Union subsequently tried to claim it was a planned massacre. In reality, it was most likely the result of a number of unintentional consequences combined to cause a tragedy for the Union soldiers. First, no organized surrender was ever declared. Soldiers surrendering did so as individuals. Because some of the Union defenders subsequently rearmed themselves after surrendering, it is likely that the Confederates became enraged and indiscriminately shot other defenders who were “surrendering.” Approximately 230 Union soldiers (of the approximately 560 in the fort’s garrison during the battle) were killed. About 60 African-American Union soldiers were taken prisoner (168 white Union troops were captured), the remainder either killed or reported as “missing in action.” In the wake of the battle, Forrest released 14 of the most seriously wounded Union African-American captives to the U.S. Navy steamer, Silver Cloud. About 14 Confederate soldiers were killed and more than 80 were wounded. Forrest would later appear before Congress to defend himself against charges of war crimes, and he was found not guilty.

Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the KKK SOURCE:

No credible source.

Actual FACTS: So closely is Forrest’s name associated with the Klan, in fact, that he is sometimes incorrectly referred to as its founder. It was in Pulaski, Tennesseethat six Confederate veterans (NOT Nathan Bedford Forrest) formed, as a lark, a secret society that they whimsically dubbed the Ku Klux Klan. He did later serve as grand wizard for a few years, but also Forrest issued KKK General Order Number One: “It is therefore ordered and decreed, that the masks and costumes of this Order be entirely abolished and destroyed.” By the end of his life, Forrest’s racial attitudes would evolve — in 1875, he advocated for the admission of blacks into law school — and he lived to fully renounce his involvement with the all-but-vanished Klan.

“I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man – to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief.”Nathan Bedford Forrest

FURTHER READING ON GENERAL FORREST

Some Facts about General Nathan Bedford Forrest:

At a time when the northern states were passing laws ‘forbidding’ blacks to live in their territories, Nathan Bedford Forrest publicly, and at great personal risk defended the civil rights of the black people.

Forrest said there was no reason black people could not be doctors, store clerks, bankers, or in any other jobs ‘equal’ to whites. He said they were skilled artisans and needed to be employed in those skills so that successive ‘black’ generations would not be dependent on a welfare society. (Forrest was a man of vision).

To prove his point, when he organized the Memphis & Selma Railroad, Forrest took it upon himself to hire blacks as architects, construction engineers, foremen, train engineers, conductors, and many other high level jobs, not just laborer positions. (The first affirmative action).

The Independent Order of Pole Bearers Association (a forerunner of the NAACP), invited General Forrest, the first white man ever invited, to speak at their convention on July 5, 1875. During his speech, too much applause, Bedford said: “I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man – to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.” Forrest went on to say, “I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief.”

Whereupon N. B. Forrest thanked Miss Lewis for the bouquet of flowers and then gave her a kiss on the cheek. Such a kiss was unheard of in the society of those days, in 1875, but it showed a token of respect and friendship between the general and the black community and did much to promote racial harmony among the citizens of Memphis.

Author Jack Hurst wrote: (Forrest) was a man possessed of physical valor perhaps unprecedented among his countrymen, as well as, ironically, a man whose social attitudes may well have changed farther in the direction of racial enlightenment over the span of his lifetime than those of most American historical figures.

Now, let’s compare two “great” men of those days. The first of our comparisons wrote: (quote):

“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” (End of quote).

Now for the second quote:

“I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man – to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief.” (End of quote).

As noted in a memo from Mr. John Pankopw: “It seems quite obvious to me that the first quote brands the speaker as a racist, unworthy of being memorialized. Wouldn’t you agree? The quote of the second speaker indicates that he sought to “strengthen fraternal relations” between whites and black, to “elevate every man and depress none.” He pledged to defend his audience (composed of blacks) from oppression. His remark “we may differ in color, but not in sentiment,” shows a remarkable idea of racial brotherhood given the era when the speech was made.”

The first quote was made by, Abraham Lincoln, the second by Nathan Bedford Forrest.

It’s obvious that General Forrest did more for racial equality in his time than any other person of that era.

When General Nathan Bedford Forrest died in 1877 it is noteworthy that his funeral in Memphis was attended not only by a throng of thousands of whites but by hundreds of blacks as well. The funeral procession was over two miles long and was attended by over 10,000 area residents, including 3000 black citizens paying their respects.

Nathan Bedford Forrest believed the key to racial harmony was not only equality in work, in opportunity, but also in education. Education on both sides of the color line. His remark in Memphis to the large gathering of free black citizens ended with the words, “and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief.” And he did, many times over.

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