Keeping the Skeer On

The Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday

The Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday

Americans have their fair share, and then some, of unflattering stereotypes. Many of the more viscous ones involve race, as you can’t wage a war against people who live among you for centuries on end without getting a few pangs of conscience if you forego such mental accessories. Growing up in the right part of the country, you pick up a slightly different set. The nasty things you learn about black people remain, but to them you add a separate set about Southerners. Southerners, always white, have never forgiven us for waging war on them and winning. They want their slaves back. In every closet one finds a white hood, on every hill a burning cross. “In the land of cotton,” as their song says, “old times are not forgotten.”

All of this ignores that rather vicious racism of the rest of the country. White terrorists destroyed Tulsa’s prosperous black community in 1919, one of those events we obscure by calling it a race riot. They engaged in similar violence fifty years ago this weekend, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Selma’s sheriff tried to turn out every white man in the county, like a proper slave patrol, and attacked six hundred peaceful protesters. They have a different way of doing things, down there. So different, in fact, that it just doesn’t count when white Americans elsewhere do the same things. The white South had a violent campaign against the advance of civil rights back in the 1950s and 1960s. Boston did in the 1970s.

An ad for Forrest's slave trade operation

An ad for Forrest’s slave trade operation

Much of the white South has done better, sometimes much better than the rest of the country, in the fifty years since Selma but some white residents work hard to keep the old stereotypes alive. Via Kevin Levin, I learn of a group calling itself The Friends of Forrest. They put up a billboard to mark the fiftieth anniversary of white terror on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Forrest as in Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate cavalry commander, slave trader, and a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Admiring a Confederate military figure in itself seems dubious to me, but Forrest? Short of actual violence, I don’t know how one could better live down to the stereotype.

Forrest’s friends had their billboard erected right at the foot of the bridge, where everyone coming to the anniversary festivities from Barack Obama on down could see it. They could not have picked a more perfect place, time, or way to tell us all about themselves:

The Billboard

The Billboard

Welcome to Selma. Skip the Civil Rights stuff and come see our Confederate history. Forrest’s motto, “Keep the skeer on ’em” applies equally well to his career before, during, and after the war. His friends’ adoption of it and placing it on a billboard standing over the site of a conspicuous act of white terror frankly beggars belief. As a billboard, we can’t dismiss this as a relic of an older time. A modern group put it up, not people long dead. They today admire the slave-trading, USCT-massacring, Klan-founding Forrest who kept the scare on. They welcome anyone else’s effort to do the same.

Selma on Bloody Sunday

Selma on Bloody Sunday

Back in grade school, I read that the Klan terrorized black Americans by riding around looking like ghosts. In the late 80s, you could read that in textbooks in Michigan. They left out how the actual “scare involved people whipped, beaten, shot, and hanged from trees. If we have made many gains, then we have not left behind all those who fought against them. Fifty years ago, black Americans marched for voting rights. Now Alabama and many other states, including my own, have embarked on a campaign to roll those rights back. They too keep the scare on. They have less famous friends of Forrest among them, like former Selma councilman (elected in 2000, not 1965), who described the anniversary festivities this way:

“It’s going to be nothing but a nigger street party,” Sexton said, using an epithet still heard on the streets here. He went on to describe participants in the march — both the one in 1965 and a reenactment this Sunday — with a torrent of vulgarities.

Councilman Sexton used city funds to put up a monument to Forrest. The people who paid for the billboard?

Forrest’s most passionate friend in Selma is Pat Godwin, known here as the Wizardess, who calls the 1965 voting rights march “the mother of all orgies,” and tells telephone callers in a chipper voice, “We can’t take your call right now, there’s a war going on!”

I suppose someone else laid claim to the Grand Dragon nickname. Plenty of Americans, in all corners of the country, still see the world that way. Others, likewise in every section, do not. If we wish to congratulate ourselves for the latter, we should not also forget the former. They’ve proven often enough quite capable of waiting patiently and then striking back when we think our work finished.

Update: Please see here for a correction and clarification for this piece. Neither alters the main thesis, but an error is an error.

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13 comments on “Keeping the Skeer On

  1. Andy Hall says:

    The Friends of Forrest billboard is not unique, of course. In Orange, Texas — a city with its own violent past — the SCV swears the only land they could acquire in the county for their new monument just happened to be on MLK Drive. Total coincidence.

  2. I really have my doubts about the accuracy of this article. For one you can’t prove the billboard was put up for this march, second Forrest DID NOT form the Klan. Third Forrest was tried by a Yankee court and found innocent of all charges in the Fort Pillow incident, and the “skeer” comment was a wartime comment to a junior officer, not likely he used it before or after the war.

    I mean these are just facts that probably don’t mean much

    Have you ever heard of Forrest’s address to the Pole Bearers?? Look it up

    George Purvis

    • We are to believe that a group of proud white supremacists just chose the billboard location randomly? Or are we to believe that they didn’t know that the anniversary was coming up and there would be gatherings?

      You are free to believe such things if you wish. The evidence is before us all the same.

      As for Forrest’s involvement with the Klan and his speech to the Pole Bearers, I refer you to Andy Hall’s excellent piece here:
      http://deadconfederates.com/2011/12/11/nathan-bedford-forrest-joins-the-klan/

      Easy enough to sound like a racial progressive once you’ve terrorized and murdered black Americans out of politics. Everybody who mattered knew where you really stood.

      • I say prove the billboard was put up because of the march. If you can’t provide evidence of this say so, if you have evidence, post it.

        Andy Hall??? LOL LOL LOL Andy hates anything Confederate, his blog is proof of that. However I have an article for you— http://youwereliedtoabout.com/nbf.htm

        Well I never mentioned race or racism. I stuck strictly to facts pertaining to Forrest. Is race the only card you have to play. Are the facts to much for you???

        And speaking about murdering Blacks lets just visit this website — http://confederatepows.southernheritageadvancementpreservationeducation.com/page.php?6

        Use the search box to the left and the search term “Negro” not how many hits you get. Now read.

        Now the only question left is if you so factually wrong in this article, how many other posts have you made with corrupted facts????

        • OH BTW this could also be a reason, I got the notice before March 2, 2015 and can prove the date —

          TO ALL: PLEASE FORWARD TO EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESSBOOK, BLOGS, FACEBOOK, ETC. WHOM YOU DEEM WOULD BE INTERESTED. If you receive this message more than once, please forgive me and hit delete; there are many addresses in my address book that I don’t recognize. If you do not wish to receive any further messages from me, please advise and I will delete your address from my contacts. Thank you for your kind considerations.

          We hope you ALL will make plans to attend this historic & monumental event!

          We Won! We have the deed to Confederate Memorial Circle!

          It’s time to Celebrate, Commemorate & Re-Dedicate!

          The Friends of Forrest and Selma Chapter 53, UDC Cordially Invite You to Attend & Share The Celebration of our Historical & Monumental Victory!!!

          Saturday, May 23, 2015 1:00 PM

          Confederate Memorial Circle
          Historic Live Oak Cemetery
          Selma, Alabama

          A Guided Tour of Live Oak Cemetery 9:30am

          Reception to follow program at the Smitherman Building Museum
          (The Original Site of the NB Forrest Monument)
          109 Union Street

          The host hotel is the Quality Inn here in Selma – 334-874-8600. I have blocked off 15 rooms at the Special Friends of Forrest rate of $69 per night plus tax. There are only 60 rooms in the hotel so call NOW for your reservations! May 23, 2015 is Memorial Day weekend. This will give out-of-towners an extra day for travel back home & work or to stay an extra day to tour Historic Selma! For more information contact: Pat Godwin at 334-875-1690; 334-419-4566 (cell) or e-mail: oldsouthrebel©zebra.net

          Confederate Memorial Circle was originally dedicated 137 years ago on 26 April 1878. It’s time to celebrate, commemorate & re-dedicate Confederate Memorial Circle where we will re-dedicate the Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument by unveiling the REPLACEMENT bronze bust of Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest. We will re-dedicate the Confederate Soldiers’ Memorial and also the new Battle of Selma Memorial. This will be a HUGE MONUMENTAL HISTORICAL event- the most paramount Confederate accomplishment throughout the South in recent times because we beat the enemy in their own territory, the Civil Rights hotpot of the world! We have won our case against the City of Selma. Selma Chapter 53, UDC has been awarded the deed to the one acre Memorial Circle plus the Pigeoneers House! Our Security & Beautification Enhancement of Confederate Memorial Circle project has been quite a test of patience, endurance, perseverance and faithful dedication of all our supporters. We are very GRATEFUL for ALL our supporters and contributors toward our efforts to defend, protect and preserve our noble Southern history and heritage here in Selma. Even though we are having the dedication on May 23, this project is not quite finished. We still have LOTS to pay for and also erect 19 bronze historical interpretive markers throughout the Circle. These historical markers will cost approximately $1500 each. We are also still selling the ancestor pavers; (4×8 – 3 lines, 18 characters – $50; 8×8 – 6 lines, 18 characters, $65) if you want your paver laid by dedication day please place your order NOW! However, we will continue to sell the pavers until we have all 4 quads filled with engraved pavers. This entire project is TAXDOLLAR FREE – only private donations have funded this project! Contact me at 334-875-1690 for order form & information. If you would like to contribute to this historical, monumental project, please make check payable to and MARK FOR: CONFEDERATE

          MEMORIAL CIRCLE:

          NBF Monument Fund/Selma Chapter 53, UDC
          C/o Patricia S. Godwin
          Fort Dixie
          10800 Co. Rd. 30
          Selma, Alabama 36701

        • I brought up racism because it’s in clear evidence, straight from the mouths of its practitioners. You know, people like Pat Goodwin and her friend Forrest. Thus it only makes sense to consider it as a motivating factor. Of course, the choice of figure for the billboard itself would have done that just as well. So would its location and timing. These are evidence. Facts, if you will.

          I cannot read the minds of the Friends of Forrest. Whatever line they had on the day they were passing out telepathy, I must have missed it. Thus I cannot give you perfect certainty to their motives. But we don’t require mutant powers too assess the motivations of others by examining their actions. You should know this, having done it yourself on this very page.

          It’s interesting how the preponderance of evidence suffices for you in forming judgments about others, but you deny others the same privilege.

          All that said, because I do care about facts, I will post two corrections to the post. They don’t materially alter its thesis, but I don’t want to mislead people.

      • Andy Hall says:

        I’ll write in more detail about Forrest and the Pole-Bearers at some point. Suffice to say for now that that organization, and the specific circumstances that led to Forrest’s address to them, are not well understood by most folks who cite it as evidence of Forrest’s warm embrace of African Americans in the postwar period.

  3. You brought racism because you do not have or will not post the true facts about Forrest. That is evident in your article.

    Pat comment to protect her white heritage is no different than any other person belonging to any other group of any other race. This is evident in the NAACP or Black History Month. Why aren’t you screaming racism in that corner?

    In the case of the billboard you are just assuming. I know for a fact these celebrations have been going on for years at this time of the year. I usually post Confederate heritage events to a Southern Heritage website, however I delete old event notices. To say this was done because of the march, which by the way, according to you, would be a racist event, is just speculation at the best.

    I don’t deny anyone the privilege of using factual information. You missed the target when you wrote you blog post. You didn’t do the minimum of research on Forrest, therefore it appears your blog post in racist. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I am happy to see that you will post factual corrections. That is the right thing to do.

    George Purvis
    Website: Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education
    http://southernheritageadvancementpreservationeducation.com/page.php?4

    Blog. Cold Southern Steel:
    https://coldsouthernsteel.wordpress.com/

    • Anti-racism and racism are not the same thing, George. As much as you might enjoy the decades old white history month punchline, you must understand that comedians are out for the laughs rather than necessarily a nuanced understanding of marginalization in history and attempts to remedy it. We get white history all the time. White heritage is under no threat. White supremacist history might be, but then who save white supremacists would miss that?

      So far as true facts about Forrest go, do you deny that he was a slave trader? I posted an ad for his business. Do you deny that he joined the Klan? The Klansmen of the time would be surprised to learn otherwise.

      And furthermore with regard to the Friends of Forrest, do they buy the billboard up every year at this time? If so, when did the observance start? The pattern of behavior would also be a piece of evidence we could examine to judge the likely motivations of the group.

      • Anti racism??? You gotta be kidding me.!!!!!!!! Racism is the same regardless of who it comes from. Black History Month is a racist event. What is the real purpose of the event??? Do you get white history all the time??? Is that why you made so many errors in your blog post??? What kept you from learning the truth?

        So he was a slave trader. How many Africans sold their own people into slavery??? Look you can ask all the questions you want it still doesn’t change the fact that your post is wrong. Can you provide documentation he joined the Klan?? You know they keep names and such pretty much a secret.

        I don’t know when they buy the billboard. I provided evidence that proves this is a yearly event which disputes that this billboard was put just because of the march.

        and you post is still wrong

        • Anti-racism isn’t racism of any kind, George. Black history month is a recognition that history in the United States has generally been taught with a nigh-absolute focus on the deeds and experiences of white Americans and consequent nigh-total exclusion of the experiences of black Americans. It’s not an occasion to express hatred of white Americans, but rather to acknowledge that they are not and have not been the only kind of American who mattered. Indeed, given the vicious hatred of black people that helped keep black Americans in the South, the lion’s share of black history is also southern history. I would think you’d be quite happy to have more attention devoted to that subject given your affiliation with the SHPG.

          If you view the approach as menacing, then I submit that you should probably spend some time asking yourself why.

          But you can do it at someone else’s blog.

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