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In Haley Barbour's Mississippi: Civil War Looms Over License Plates

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The South is a place where many folks still want to believe in an antebellum region of moonlight and magnolias.

Sometimes, that nostalgia clashes head-on with the politically correct present. In Mississippi, such a battle is raging over -- of all things -- license plates marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans has launched a campaign to issue one of the specialty license plates honoring Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was once the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The NAACP and a Facebook group are protesting the plate, which at the earliest would be unveiled in 2014.

This little drama comes at a perilous time for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in Washington this past week attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and positioning himself for a possible 2012 run. So far, Barbour has not responded to the controversy but he seldom shies away from his Southern heritage.

And in the South, Forrest is a legend and a hero among Civil War buffs.

The town of Forrest City in eastern Arkansas near Memphis is named in his honor. The Ku Klux Klan hosted rallies in the town as recently as a few years ago. In neighboring Tennessee, Forrest's home state, a state park is named for him. The park's website calls him "the intrepid Confederate cavalry leader." Forrest Gump, the character created by Winston Groom, was named after him.

Even Barbour doesn't shy away from Forrest. As governor, he has attended the National Championship Hunt for bird dogs and hosted a reception at Galena Plantation, the original home of Forrest, who was a millionaire when the Civil War started, in Holly Springs, Miss.

Forrest was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864 after his military forces conducted a bloody massacre of hundreds of black Union Army and white southern prisoners sympathetic to the Union. That only endeared him to rebel leaders like Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who lamented that the Confederacy did not utilize Forrest' abilities to mobilize and strategize enough.

He joined the Ku Klux Klan, but then left it because he felt the group was too violent. Most academics agree that this was Forrest's reasoning for leaving.

"If Christian redemption means anything -- and we all want redemption, I think -- he redeemed himself in his own time, in his own actions, in his own words," Greg Stewart, a member of the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Associated Press. "We should respect that."

The group has had a specialty license plate since 2003. Until last year, it featured a small Confederate flag, but a re-design now features Beauvoir mansion in Biloxi, Miss., the final home of Confederate president Davis. Legislators would have to approve the Forrest plate, but they have okayed more than 100 of them over the years.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans group evolved from the United Confederate Veterans, which was formed in the late 1800s. The group is "a historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to insuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved." Members must have "descended from any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces." They often participate in historical re-enactments and also preserve Confederate soldiers' graves.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, however, says that the group has been dominated by "racial extremists since 2002." It also states that the radical faction has sought to turn "the SCV into an explicitly political group that pushes racist neo-Confederate ideas and issues."

In the South, the push-and-pull of the past looms largely.

Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with Confederate General Robert E. Lee in many Southern states including Mississippi.

In Natchez, Miss., the city still hosts spring and fall pilgrimages that showcase the grandest of plantations from the Civil War era.

Hostesses wear elaborate hooped dresses and black women dress up like Mamie from "Gone With the Wind" and offer pralines for sale. The town sees it as an economic engine. And it works. Tourists from as far away as Europe visit during the pilgrimages, which began during the Great Depression as a way for the town to make money and restore the palatial homes.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Virginia, also exists as a women's heritage association dedicated to honoring the memory of those who served and died in service to the Confederate States of America. The group began in the late 1800s to collect money for memorials to Confederate veterans and battles.

It, too, has a controversial past. It opposed integration of public schools in the 1950s and suggested that an all-white public school rename itself after – guess who? Yes, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

In July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning a convention in Montgomery, Ala., celebrating "The Cause for Southern Independence." The first morning of the convention kicks off with, yes, a "Forrest Cavalry Breakfast."
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You need to do some research...

According to Shelby Foote, Nathan Bedford Forrest did NOT start the KKK, AND a congressional and military investigation cleared Nathan Bedford Forrest of any wrongdoing.

"What happened at Fort Pillow was no different than what happened at a dozen other battles under Union generals," said military historian Dr. Brian Wills, "Some soldiers in that kind of environment are going to get ‘out of hand’ and the military record is replete with prosecutions of such men. Gen. Forrest was a strict disciplinarian and consistently prosecuted men in his command for such actions as those alleged at Fort Pillow. Why that particular battle drew national attention has more to do with a Presidential campaign that was going badly for Lincoln and a Secretary of War wanting to hold onto power. Gen. Sherman later acknowledged that what happened at Fort Pillow was one of those unfortunate consequences of war and Forrest could not be personally held responsible for it."

February 22 2011 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Carla P Campbell

To allisonisa39e who posted the following comment:

"I guess all those associations for "Colored " people are not racist !!!"

What does "colored" means as we ALL have a color....Please advise.

February 21 2011 at 12:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The Civil War was not fought over slavery, sure it was the underlying cause but the war started because of succession and was fought to preserve the union. Cotton was a major industry in the mid 19th century and even though slavery was abhorrent and repulsive it was economically advantageous to all concerned. The war could have been avoided had the plantation owners gave these people their freedom and offered them jobs instead, they could have collected rents, charged for food, and they could have charged a bit more for cotton. The practice of slavery started in the 16th century, it was as disgraceful as anything before or since, but it was a different time with different morals and thinking, and if the South wants to honor that practice and that war, who cares it just shows their thinking process.

February 21 2011 at 12:27 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

For heaven's sake the Civil War is OVER! Its one thing to showcase beautiful homes, but an entirely different thing to celebrate the war itself, and any of the people who committed the atrocities attributed to them, such as Forrest or anyone on either side. I see these trucks with Conf. Flags driving around, (in Arizona no less) I see people and know people with these flags in their homes, and it seems like so many of them are racist. This war was fought to stop slavery,but the people who still celebrate it need to move on. The unnecessary loss of thousands of lives in order to stop such a terrible thing is nothing to celebrate, rather it should serve as a lesson to us all. These people need to move into the 21st century. The Conf. Flag is a symbol of an era of ignorance, racism, making money at the expense of human bodies,the destruction of families, both in this country and in slave exporting countries, I see nothing to be proud about in that.

February 21 2011 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a 61 year old African-American woman who worked in the South in the 1970s and had relatives who came from Arkansas and Texas; I wonder about the inability of White Southerners to actually look at and and accept all the various parts of their history. The history that was written by their ancestors who were the leaders, politicians, and solders. The position of the suceeding states was put in writing by these long dead White Southerners. The statements made in Congress that led up to succession have been written down. Trying to revise history does not do any credit to those trying to honor and remember what they consider the culture and achievements of White Southerners. Admit you are human, your ancestors were human--the greed and laziness that led to wanting someone else to do the hot work in the sun and to starve and die from the abuse--well the parties on the wealthy plantations were nice and so was the surface courtesy and pretense that rape and abuse of others were not supporting this lifestyle. So celebrate the good, worthy or culturally significant but don't lie or ignore what else was going on. Most African-Americans I know and have met don't look at present day descendants as automatically evil or guilty of what occurred in the past. We simply don't accept the pretense or white washing of the less savory aspects of Southern history. By the way, there was ugliness in the North, East, and West. Towns had sundown laws, prevented African Americans from buying land or being gainfully employed, segregation n the areas of housing and education were commonplace. We all have uglies from the past; but the truth is that we cannot lay it to rest as long as we lie about it.

February 20 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Republicans in Mississippi should read their history before they support honoring N.B. Forrest. One of his main goals after starting the Klan was to KILL REPUBLICANS. The license plate would be elevating the GOP's worst enemy in history. Check it out.

February 19 2011 at 9:34 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to carraroe's comment

True, but people never take the time to study the facts of history. The southern whites were too stupid to realize that they, too, were enslaved by a
system of a few rich, white, plantation owners who controlled everyone. Why give a white guy a job when you have free labor?

February 21 2011 at 1:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

In today's economy do we really need new license plate or stamp or money designs? How much would 'we the people' save in gov spending if we just stop with the new and just go to a one of the present designs for a year or two? License plates were just fine when they were just letters and numbers on a solid background and they offended no one!! Useing forever stamps with the US Flag would get your mail were it is going! And, do we really need ' state quarters' or things like them when 'we the people' are so short on cash? Think 'we the people' when you think about yourself, your community,your state and your country! 'We the people' are the folks who should be watching out for 'we the people'! Is it best to spend 'our' money to help a family supporter who has lost a job or a new stamp with some flower on it? Money for the senior adult in need of Medicare help or a coin with with something new on it? Is a new 'anything' worth all of us 'baby boomers' giveing up our social secruity money? For me it is not! How about you?

February 19 2011 at 7:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

However strong our feelings are regarding the Confederacy, the fact remains that it's still part of our history and certainly part of many southren family heritages. So what's the big issue? I say if folks pay attentuion to their own afairs, they'd have no time to be paying attention to somebody elses, so let them post their tag and cellibrate their family history if they have a mind to do so!Ain't no bodies business but their own.


February 19 2011 at 6:08 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

why was and still is, arguments, & celebrations all over the issue of owning human
beings" as property, and whether the practice" should be a legal right?. And for
the person or persons, who feels that they had a god given right",to engage
in this kind of behavior" and find nothing wrong with, then what was the actural
act, that would have been over the line? if owning people as cattle' is a
Christian Act", favored in the bible?

February 19 2011 at 2:48 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

At Fort Pillow, General Forrest suggested the position of his soldiers then went back to camp. As he always did he asked to fort to surrender or he would not be responsible for bloodshed. Those in the fort chose to run instead. He was later cleared of any charges. You do not mention this in your article.

February 18 2011 at 11:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hal's comment

Didn't troops under George Patton kill Axis prisoners in Sicily during World War Two?

February 19 2011 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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