Ku Klux Social Club

Chris Hedges has a good column about neo-Confederacy in Memphis entitled Chris Hedges: White Power to the Rescue. Apparently there is a battle over whether a city park should be named after KKK founder and Confederate traitor in defense of slavery, Nathan Bedford Forrest or after black journalist, Ida Wells.

Like Tony Horwitz before him, I think Hedges is noting that the Civil War remains unfinished. Hedges draws parallels with Yugoslavia in the 90s. In Yugoslavia, ethnic groups discarded history in favor of myths of a glorious past that never existed. Consequently, those groups couldn’t talk to each other any more.

The embrace by nationalist groups of a nonreality-based belief system made communication with other ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural language. There was no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth.

In this episode, set in the modern Confederate States of America, Nathan Bedford Forrest is no longer a man who grew wealthy in the slave trade, committed treason to defend that gravy train, and then, having lost, created a terrorist group devoted to bigotry. No, no!:

Forrest “promoted progress for black people in this country after the war.” Boyd argued that the KKK was “more of a social club” at its inception and didn’t begin carrying out “bad and horrific things” until it reconstituted itself with the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

I see another parallel. Good white Southerners who are not particularly racist and do not have any special antipathy toward nonwhites are likely nevertheless annoyed at the prospect of downgrading the status of the heroic white traitors they grew up admiring; such as Forrest, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and the rest in favor of, say, civil rights leaders, journalists, and abolitionists. David Wong, writing for Cracked.com (yes, I am a consumer of fine literature) gives us “5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You.” These all revolve around unspoken power struggles. Number 1 is “You Assumed That Because You Were OK With a Situation, Everybody Was.”

“Why do they have to rock the boat just when things were going good?”
“Why complain now, when we’ve always done it this way?”

He points out that one of the main advantages of power is not having to think about it. You might not think about money when you’re eating at a restaurant; but you sure think about it when you’re starving. (Wong cites this article from the Slacktivist with similar thoughts about Christianity and tribalism.) So, the powerful groups can just put up monuments to icons who are hateful to non-powerful groups and just go about their business without paying much attention; and then start squealing like a stuck pig when the less powerful groups start trying to change things.

At the end of the day, a society’s monuments tell the tale of where the heart of the majority lies. We don’t put up monuments to Cornwallis and King George to pay homage to their solid effort or to celebrate our heritage. When Southerners name their parks after guys like Forrest and put up monuments to him, it tells you that they’re still conflicted about whether or not they’re committed to the Union.


  1. Matt Ottinger says

    Kevin Willmott’s 2004 documentary (or mockumentary) “Confederate States of America” is pretty intriguing if you haven’t seen it. It’s done in a Ken Burns style, and looks back at American history if the South had won the Civil War and then captured the White House. It includes extremely racist TV ads, shown in a modern form — although they’re based on actual ads and products made in America years ago.

    The perceptions of the men involved in the war still amazes me. For example, at Conner Prairie’s new Civil War exhibit, you experience the town of Dupont as it is raided by rogue Confederate general John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry — clearly a dastardly villain in this instance. Yet, if you were to make the short drive to Lexington, KY, there is a monument erected in his honor. Oh America…

  2. Carlito Brigante says

    The Willmott mockumentary was excellent.

    Dog, your comment about the monuments we erect marking the heart of the country is well reasoned. There is a line in the film “Hud” where Melvyn Douglas is warning his grandson not to follow in the footsteps of his dissolute and ammoral uncle Hud. Douglas says. “Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”

    The south still admires the treasonous.

  3. Kirk, Across the Hall says

    The KKK is described as a “social club”?

    A social club whose activities include Arson, Murder, Assault, Terrorism, Interference with Civil Rights, Burglary, Theft, Conspiring to Overthrow the United States Government and . . . what, maybe scrapbooking and flower arranging?

    Ok, everyone who has not thrown a firebomb at a Republican’s house has to come up front and sign “I’m a little teapot”.

    • Jason says

      As a logical exercise, I can accept the idea that this may be true.

      Perhaps 5 guys got into a room & thought about the poor black neighbors of theirs, and created a social group to help them. As time went on, they grew in number, and more racists elements joined, until it became the opposite of what it was founded as.

      It *could* have happened that way, and it is almost impossible to know for sure since we were not there. It just isn’t very likely.

      This is why I hate history: there are so many things that you just can’t know the true story. In the end, it is someone’s guess as to what the most likely thing was. Still, it is valuable to learn the mistakes of the past. I only hope we catch more of our mistakes on video so future generations will have an unbiased witness.

  4. Freedom says

    It’s always fun to come here and see the assembled leftist wackadoodles spouting their hatred for America as if nobody has a memory.

    • jharp says

      “It’s always fun to come here and see the assembled leftist wackadoodles spouting their hatred for America as if nobody has a memory.”

      Got it. Discussing out the absurdity and the reasoning of a battle over whether a city park should be named after KKK founder and Confederate traitor in defense of slavery, Nathan Bedford Forrest or after black journalist, Ida Wells….

      … is ” leftist wackadoodles spouting their hatred for America”

      Let me guess. Teabagger?

      What is wrong with you people?

  5. Stephen F Smith says

    The South suffered for their treason, yes, but they were never de-Confederatized. They were allowed, to continue with the myths and beliefs that “The South will Rise Again”.
    How often must we go through this? We’ve elected an African-American President — twice, and now they want to honor one of America’s most blood-thirsty terrorists.
    When we elect our first woman President, will they want to name a park after Timothy McVeigh?


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