On Monuments

by Dave Hall

Statues are not history. They are communications devices for ideologies. True for this animal-who is one of the most common in the states of the old Confederacy-not despite the fact he started the KKK, but because of it.      

Statues of Queen Victoria are designed in the same way to celebrate British Imperialism, and its colonial descendants such as the Canadian state.      

Put them in a museum where their role as propaganda for the ruling groups of their day can be explained. Do not put them in the public square where they are nothing more than mindless glorification of a past filled with actions that were anything but glorious.        

On this day, 13 July 1921, the Tennessee state holiday Nathan Bedford Forrest Day was first observed, celebrating the 100th birthday of the First Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was also a war criminal responsible for the murder of hundreds of mostly Black Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Forrest’s control carried out the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864, when they slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Union soldiers who had surrendered. They murdered most of the Black soldiers and roughly one third of the whites; burning some alive, crucifying others and hacking people to death.        

One Confederate soldier described events in a letter to his family: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded 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 shot down. The white men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen. Blood, human blood stood out in pools and brains could have been gathered in any quantity.”        

After the war, Forrest became the first national leader of the white supremacist terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan, helping lead a wave of terrorist violence, torture and murder against Black people and White Republican voters.        

In June 2020, the Tennessee state government voted to continue to observe his birthday as a holiday, although under pressure from a national wave of Black-led anti-racist protests, they did amend the law slightly so that the governor does not have to personally sign a proclamation to him every year.