My Heart’s In Mississippi

February 11, 2011

I’ve never been to Mississippi, but part of me will always call it home. My ancestors were slaves there, and their blood and tears are in the soil, the wind, the water and, of course, the blues. Ah, the blues. Nothing soothes my stupid spirit than a hard-scrabbling Delta blues ballad, especially if it’s playing on an old and warpy slab of vinyl.

Someday my journey will take me to Mississippi. Someday. I’ve come close; my journeys have taken me through Georgia, Tennessee, the Virginias, Kentucky, southern Ohio and even Florida, which I will admit if you promise you won’t tell anyone. But never Mississippi. Someday.

However …

News out of the Magnolia State this week took me by surprise. As part of a series of commemorative licence plates to be issued over the next few years to honour heroes of The War of Northern Aggression, a call has been made to issue a plate recognizing the historical contributions of a character named Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Forrest was a famous military commander and strategist and also a batshit crazy racist who slaughtered black people and, when that wasn’t giving him enough of a boner, founded a social club called the Ku Klux Klan.

And while I admit there are people who probably hold him in high regard, and I would never endorse revisionist history, I still think Mississippi would be doing itself a disservice if it ever placed any kind of official seal on something honouring a man whose grand plan involved — and still does — hanging black people and killing Jews. While the group calling for the plate, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has no racist links at all, Forrest’s name is enough of an alarm bell that the negative impact of such a move far outweighs any effort to recognize him for other accomplishments — which are many, and admirable, and wiped out as soon as he put on the robes and pointy mask.

You know, if everyone would just sit back and listen to the blues, none of this crap would be happening. Peace, people. Peace.

  • Of course, it always helps if you can laugh at the KKK, as the Simpsons did so perfectly when showing off a series of failed cartoon characters, which included Ku Klux Klam …



  1. My one trip through Mississippi was uneventful, but I wasn’t looking for trouble.

    As for Mississippi delta blues musicians, tops for me is Mississippi John Hurt. “I’m Satisfied” with his music, which tends to be true to tradition musically but is often more positive lyrically.
    He wasn’t looking for trouble either…

  2. My name is Nathan and I’m a regular listener to Books You Should Read and Starbase 66. I have never felt the need to write in or anything, but this blog post caught my eye.
    I just wanted to chime in and share my views of Forrest, so please bear with me. My father named me after the Civil War veteran and to this day, it really embarrasses me when I say that. No, my old man way not a racist, far from it. He’s just very southern.
    While Forrest was a founding member of the Klu Klux Klan, the Klan was quite different in its first few years from how we know it today. Nathan Bedford Forrest actually left the Klan soon after they started taking the horrible ideas of hanging black folk and Jews.
    I would encourage you to seek out and read Forrest speech to the Independent Pole-Bearers Association (an early version of the NAACP) on July 5th of 1875. In it he speaks extremely kindly of African Americans. Here is an excerpt.

    “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.”

    Now, I understand why someone would be oppose to honoring this man on a state level, but really, it’s just a license plate. Maybe it shouldn’t be done. I don’t know and frankly, don’t care. However, I do care when some people are misrepresented. Done take me the wrong way; I’m not trying to change your view of the man. I only want to share mine.
    I would like to share a person story. An ancestor of mine served in the American Civil War. He was also a slave owner. His slave chose to go with him and fight against the Union. After my great great great grandfather died in the battle of Gettysburg, the now freed black man returned to my ancestors farm. The free man gave my grandmother her husband his tobacco can as proof of his death and continued to live with her, her family, and his family.
    I look forward every week to listening to your shows. They really bring a spring to my step as I trug across campus.

    Peace be with you, Nathan

    • Fair enough, Nathan, and thanks for sharing all this. My concern is less with Forrest’s actual legacy and more with the impact his name carries today in places outside Mississippi. The Klan is one of the worst things to come out of America, and Nathan Forrest Bedford’s name will always be linked to it.

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