Plans for an expanded monument to honor Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Selma, Alabama have raised controversy.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest led his troops to kill black soldiers who had surrendered,” Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders told the Daily Agenda. “He killed women and children. That would be enough alone that you would not have this monument built.” Sanders is referring to what occurred after the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864 when Forrest allowed his forces to massacre black Union troops who had surrendered.
The original monument was erected in a city park in 2000 and was repeatedly vandalized before being moved to Live Oak Cemetery, a private cemetery. It features a 7-foot tall piece of granite with a bronze bust of Forrest sitting atop it, but the bust disappeared in March. Friends of Forrest, a local neo-Confederate group, plan on expanding the monument by laying a new concrete foundation, adding a new bust, enclosing the whole thing in a wrought iron gate and adding lighting and camera surveillance.
At the end of August protestors stopped construction on the new monument by lying in the path of a concrete truck, reported the New York Times. Selma Mayor George Patrick Evans decided on August 23 to halt the construction pending a review by the city attorney.
Friends of Forrest have said free speech protections give them the right to erect the expanded monument.
“We’re fortunate to live in a country where we each could have our own opinion and my hero may be a villain to you,” Friends leader Todd Kiscaden told the Daily Agenda.
But those against the monument say it’s a public monument and a symbol of hate.
On Friday, September 14, activist Malika Sanders-Fortier and other community members will present a petition she started on Change.org to the Selma City Council. Before delivering the petition, which has already received more than 282,000 signatures, the group will do a reenactment of the historic Bloody Sunday march. The march occurred on March 7, 1965 when a group of some 600 civil rights activists headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only six blocks when they were attacked by state and local lawmen with billy clubs and tear gas.
“Monuments celebrating violent racism and intolerance have no place in this country, let alone in a city like Selma, where the families of those attacked by the Klan still live,” Sanders-Fortier says in the petition.
Monuments to historic figures whose actions should not have gotten them memorialized are nothing new to Native Americans. A few that come to mind immediately are the two to Christopher Columbus in New York City—the first in Columbus Circle, and a second monument in Columbus Park in Brooklyn. Other New York City monuments include the sculpture of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was named commander of the U.S. Army by Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, at the main entrance to Central Park. According to PBS.org, he led brutal campaigns against Natives in the West by not only killing soldiers but by destroying the resources they needed to survive.
And possibly the largest monument is Mount Rushmore. A sacred site to a number of Native American tribes in the Black Hills that since 1941 has had four president’s heads looming over the sacred landscape.
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