Gen. Forrest and the Confederate flag
Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Monday, July 13th, in the year of our Lord 2009, is the188th birthday of American legend and Southern Hero--Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
President Obama continued a century-old tradition, on Memorial Day, by honoring American Servicemen and women buried at Arlington National Cemetery and sending a wreath to the Confederate and Black Union soldier’s section.
Some criticized Obama for remembering the Confederate soldiers buried at section 16 but, like his predecessors, the president did the historically-correct and Patriotic thing in remembering ‘All’ American Veterans.
Almost a century earlier, on June 4, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson spoke at Arlington National Cemetery on the occasion of the unveiling of a new Confederate Monument by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. His speech echoed praise for the Confederate soldier and he received applause from a crowd of thousands that included Confederate and Union Veterans.
Will the circle, of remembering our American family, be unbroken?
Some, today, seek to ban the Confederate Battle flag, the blood-stained soldier’s banner of many hard fought battles, from Veterans Day events and the soldier’s monument at South Carolina’s State Capitol. There is also a push to ban the Confederate flag at all NASCAR races.
Some groups claim the Southern flag is offensive to Black people.
But, what do they say to Black folks who call the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern Pride like Nelson Winbush of Florida who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans—www.scv.org? Mr. Winbush speaks truthfully and from the heart about the War for Southern Independence, 1861-65, and of his grandfather who fought for the South. He may even ‘proudly’ show you a picture of himself, as a child, with his Grandfather, Louis Napoleon Nelson, who rode with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in Company M of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry and was buried with his Confederate uniform and Confederate flag draped casket.
Gen. Forrest said of the Black men who rode with him, “These boys stayed with me ... and better Confederates did not live.”
You might also ask Black Southern-Historian H.K. Edgerton who marched across Dixie from North Carolina to Texas attired in Confederate uniform, carrying the Confederate flag and educating many Black and White people along the way about their Southern Heritage. Edgerton is also past president of the local NAACP Chapter in Asheville, North Carolina.
Was Gen. Forrest an early advocate for Civil Rights?
Forrest’s speech during a meeting of the “Jubilee of Pole Bearers” is a story that needs to be told. Gen. Forrest was the first white man to be invited by this group which was a forerunner of today’s Civil Right’s group. A reporter of the Memphis Avalanche newspaper was sent to cover the event.
Miss Lou Lewis, daughter of a Pole Bearer member, was introduced to Forrest and she presented the former general a bouquet of flowers as a token of reconciliation, peace and good will. On July 5, 1875, Nathan Bedford Forrest delivered this speech.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the Southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) 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. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.” (Prolonged applause.) End of speech.
Nathan Bedford Forrest again thanked Miss Lewis for the bouquet 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 harmony among the citizens of Memphis, Tennessee.
Some people have claimed that Forrest was associated with the Ku Klux Klan but he officially denied participation. He encouraged the friendly reunion of North and South and the remembrance of both the Confederate and Union Dead.
Forrest died on October 29, 1877, in Memphis, Tennessee and is buried with his wife at Forrest Park.
Lest We Forget!!
A native of Georgia, Calvin Johnson, Chairman of the National and Georgia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Confederate History Month Committee---Scv.org lives near the historic town of Kennesaw and he’s a member of the Chattahoochee Guards Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans. He is the author of the book ”When America Stood for God, Family and Country.” Calvin can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org