Every time I see the word ‘Mississippi' in a headline I instantly cringe. That's because I know that whatever follows will only serve as a reaffirmation of the negative stereotypes many hold about our state. Despite my best efforts to convince others that my state really isn't as backwards as we're portrayed, something always happens in our state so indefensible that I feel disingenuous for even attempting to defend the ‘hospitality state.'
The most recent stupidity to grab national headlines are the considerations under way for a special license plate to commemorate Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Mississippi Branch of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans is behind the push.
Interestingly, Forrest was once Southern Miss' mascot. Having him as Southern Miss' mascot was far more offensive than Ole Miss' generic Colonel Reb; Forrest had a somewhat more shady history. In other words, there's a very good reason Seymour took over for General Forrest long before Colonel Reb was devoured by a black bear.
Forrest was responsible for numerous atrocities as a Confederate general, including the Fort Pillow massacre, in which Forrest mercilessly slaughtered black Union soldiers.
In a letter to his sister, Confederate Soldier Achilles Clark described witnessing the massacre with repulsion:
"The poor ... negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery ... but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued."
In later life, after the war was over, Forrest went on to help found the Ku Klux Klan. His activities included nighttime "ghost parades" in which he and his fellow hooded freaks would go around attacking and killing blacks in an effort to intimidate black voters.
Yet for some reason, the Sons of Confederate Veterans seem to think Forrest is worthy of commemoration on Mississippi's license plates.
Member Greg Stewart said that Forrest deserved the dignity of Christian redemption and that he had redeemed himself later in life. Even if it were true that he had redeemed himself in time to meet his maker, that wouldn't mean he is deserving of special recognition by the state of Mississippi.
There's a very good reason we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and not Malcolm X Day — despite Malcolm X's late religious epiphany and rejection of his former doctrine of violence. But it almost sounds ludicrous to even compare Malcolm X to Forrest; Malcolm X never even came close to the kind of cruelty Forrest unleashed before his supposed "redemption."
Bottom line? Putting Forrest on any license plate is an awful idea. Any state legislator who would be complicit in making such a license plate an option deserves nothing but the greatest scorn from the people of Mississippi. After all, they that perpetuate these stupid ideas are the ones who give us all a bad name.
Mississippi, we're better than that.