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Can’t see the trees for Forrest

Approximately 25 years ago, I marched shoulder–to-shoulder with Attorney Rose Sanders in protest of housing units named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. The units were occupied exclusively by black citizens.

It is indisputable that Forrest was selected to be the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. My research revealed that Forrest had requested of General Robert E. Lee to hold the position; but Lee declined, saying that he would give his invisible support for the Klan. Therefore, Forrest, known as the “Wizard of the Saddle,” as he remounted several times after his horses were shot in battle, became the Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire. Forrest’s name was eventually removed from the housing community and most residents moved also.

Forrest has been vilified more for the massacre of hundreds of black soldiers at Fort Pillow Tennessee than his involvement with the KKK.

The ghost of Forrest has been resurrected because city council president, the Rev. Cecil Williamson attended a gathering in his honor. I am not writing this to bury or praise Rev. Williamson for his birthday visit. Cecil has never hidden his pride in his southern heritage and recent protests can only raise his prominence among his ilk.

I am writing to say that a picture of a black child eating watermelon is not as offensive as a white savior of black people (in his own mind) referring to black people as “darkies.” The greatest tragedy is that Rev. Mark Duke’s racist remarks were aired on a black radio station. I remained silent after listening to a recording of some of his disparaging remarks about black preachers and parishioners, but his recent escapade has gone too far.

The world is replete with characters who started out bad and ended up good. Hugo Black was a former Klansman, whose rulings on the U.S. Supreme Court helped advance the cause of justice for minorities in this country. Mulauna N. Karenga, who founded Kwanzaa, was born Ron N. Everette. He gave himself the Swahili title, Mulauna, which means “great teacher.” Prior to Kwanzaa, he founded “United Slaves.” He served time in jail for torturing two black females who he believed were disloyal to him. He competed with the Black Panther Party to win the minds of university students in California. Attorney Sanders once accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of being a racist organization. Former Selma mayor, Joseph T. Smitherman, along with many other citizens I know, was a member of the White Citizens Council, but worked with Attorney Rose Sanders to move black citizens out of the pits of “Slave City.”

Attorney Faya Rose Toure, Bishop Fortier, and others have worked untiringly to teach young black children to refrain from violence and get a good education. I pray that the entire community will join together to make Selma a better city, unaffected by the insane politics and “politricks” that occur daily.

When Forrest was wounded in Selma, he retreated to Tennessee leaving brave citizens to continue the battle. After being severely wounded politically, Mark Duke left Selma and moved to Georgia. Yet he still fires volleys of insults against all who disagree with him in Selma. I have great respect for a number of the people Duke left in Selma. They have a right to speak up for themselves; but when they attack black folks because they attend a church that’s not in good standing with them, or those who are working with Southern Baptist to better the lives of black folks in the Selmont area and other parts of the county, they greatly err.

When God created man and woman, he put them in a garden that had trees to bless them. Selma has trees of opportunity that must be available to all of her inhabitants. I am hoping that we will not lose sight of the trees by overly focusing on the Forrest.

Joseph Rembert

2310 Summerfield Road

Selma, Alabama 36701

(334) 874-8488