The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Once Again, Racism Rears Up in the Sons of Confederate Veterans

By Mark Potok on February 11, 2011 - 10:07 am, Posted in Neo-Confederate

For much of the last decade, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) has been roiled by an internal civil war between racial extremists and those who want to keep the Southern heritage group a kind of history and genealogy club.

It’s beginning to look like the racists won.

First came the news, originally reported on this blog last August, that the SCV was planning a Feb. 19 march down Dexter Avenue here in Montgomery, Ala., to “CELEBRATE THE BEGINNING OF THE CONFEDERACY” and ensure that it “is remembered and portrayed in the right way.” What the SCV meant by “the right way” was made obvious by its website promoting the event, which insists that “the South was right!” and claims that “there is no difference between the invasion of France by Hitler and the invasion of the Southern states by Lincoln.”

And now, from the Mississippi Division of the SCV, comes this new gem: The group wants the state to issue a special license plate, keyed like the Montgomery march to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest — a millionaire Memphis slave trader before the war, an apparent war criminal who presided over the massacre of surrendering black prisoners at Fort Pillow, Tenn., during it, and the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan afterward, when the Klan’s terrorist violence paved the way to a Jim Crow South.

Neo-Confederate apologists in the SCV and elsewhere claim that Forrest has been mischaracterized, that he was a good man who disbanded the Klan when it became violent. Mississippi SCV member Greg Stewart told The Associated Press that Forrest had sought “Christian redemption” and ultimately rejected the Klan. “He redeemed himself in his own time,” he said. “We should respect that.”

That is false. Forrest, for all the fawning attention he’s received from the historical revisionists of the neo-Confederate movement, was certainly a brilliant and highly successful cavalry general — but he was also a homicidal bully.

Before the war, according to a newspaper account at the time, he was known for personally bullwhipping slaves who were held stretched out in the air by four other slaves. Women slaves were reportedly stripped naked and whipped with a leather thong dipped in salt. Former slaves later backed up these accounts.

In 1864, Forrest demanded the surrender of 580 mostly black troops at Fort Pillow, warning them that otherwise, “I cannot be responsible for your fate,” even as he stealthily and illegally improved his position during negotiations under the white flag. Then, when the Union commander refused, Forrest unleashed his men. “The slaughter was awful,” an appalled Confederate sergeant later wrote his family. “I with several others tried to stop the butchery and at one time partially succeeded, but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs, and the carnage continued.” Numerous surviving Union soldiers reported hearing Confederate officers saying that Forrest had ordered them to “kill the last God damn one of them.”

Forrest was known for personally executing deserters or Confederates who fled the field. As the war came to a close, he came upon a father and son near Selma, Ala., and decided they were deserters. He ordered them shot and their bodies left out for two days before burial with a sign, “Shot for desertion,” hung above them. Several days later, it emerged that the pair had, in fact, been entirely innocent.

After the war, even as former Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was urging fellow Southerners to “promote harmony and good will” in the reborn Union, Forrest initiated hard-line resistance to Reconstruction and secretly became the Klan’s first national leader. It is false that he disbanded the Klan because it became violent. In fact, Forrest disbanded the Klan — after lying to Congress about his membership — only after its work was done and it had come under severe criticism. Klan terrorism had by then already made it impossible for blacks and Republicans to vote.

Both the Montgomery march and the Mississippi license plate request are part of a whole series of events planned by the SCV to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. None of them give so much as a nod to the horrors of slavery or to the civil rights movement that finally liberated the South a century later — and, in fact, the Montgomery neo-Confederate parade, in a particularly ugly and unmentioned irony, follows the same route as the end of the famous 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march led by Martin Luther King Jr.

None of this is much of a surprise if you take a look at the national SCV website promoting the series of events, including the Montgomery march, that are meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. There, a series of writers attempt to make the case that slavery had nothing to do with the war, another utter falsehood. In fact, as virtually all serious historians agree, the South seceded because it became obvious that Congress would not allow the extension of slavery to the new Western territories, threatening the slave lobby’s dominance. The Texas Declaration of the Causes of Secession, for example, said plainly that the free states were “proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality for all men, irrespective of race or color,” and added that blacks were “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.” Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, said as much in his infamous 1861 “Cornerstone” speech: “Our new Government is founded on exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and moral condition.”

But these historical facts are of no interest to the SCV. Instead, while most Americans remember the bloodiest war in American history as the nation’s most trying moment, the SCV is busy promoting a Southern past that never was.

  • Albert Bryan

    Thank you Robbert. I am sick of hypocritical history makers. Can we review how the slaves got to the US to begin with and what shipping companies brought them here? How about the percentage of Confederate Solders that owned slaves? Tariffs anyone? 40 years preceeding the war? Indentured servants? Conscripted immigrants? What honest Abe really believed and said. What happened to the free slaves when they went north?

  • Robbert

    Yep,
    The North so loved the Negro that they marched South to free them, then after the war posted “Negro & Irish need not apply” at every place of bussiness they could. They allowed parts of WV & KY to keep slaves for SEVERAL years after the Civil War…so much for freedom,huh?

  • fiddledeedee

    No need to put “neo” ahead of this supposed “movement”. The SCV has existed at least 100 years, so it is hardly some trend that has just popped up out of nowhere like this extremely biased and uninformed article suggests. Nor do they sit around sipping tea and spewing hatred of black people, whilst missing and proclaiming the imagined glories of slavery. The author is confusing them with some Nazi aryan nation skinhead. The SCV is a geneological society of descendants of veterans that tour and preserve battlefields, raise money for monuments, raise money for charities, scholarships, and other such completely “racist” endeavors. People of all races are encouraged to join and indeed, people of all races are members. The SCV is solely interested in Forrest’s service in the war, and in no way support, or even share the same opinions of the inferior white trash that is the KKK. When is the last time you encountered a black KKK member, or millions of dollars of KKK money donated to causes in need? Exactly. If there is a racist member of the SCV, that is because there are racist people everywhere. They in no way represent the views of the SCV as a whole, or even the majority of its members. I know because I am a Daughter and the SCV is the corresponding mens version. Furthermore, it is not this mans place to make claims that our goal is anything resembling a hate group. In fact, the mission is to help others. Secondly, to research ancestors while touring historical civil war places of significance. I won’t make assumptions about the authors of the article, and some comments, that claim I and my fellow members have hidden reasons for joining unbeknownst to them, such as hatred and/or a guilt complex. The same consideration is truly of no significance to anyone at the end of the day. I just thought I would ATTEMPT to enlighten some people writing laughably foolish articles and comments.

  • William

    I agree that the actions of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest as being appalling in how he behaved at Fort Pillow and his lack of humane regard towards his slaves lack any form of compassion. But one of the main aspects that the Son’s of Confederacy is to balance the very obvious demonizing of the brave fallen veterans of the War of Northern Aggression. We have blacks in the sons of Confederacy and we have strong Sothern Demarcates who voted for President Obama. I on the other hand belong to the Regan Conservative crowd and vote for the party of emancipation (Lincoln’s Party) the Republicans. Not because I’m a racist, but I believe in less government. I would have voted for any Black candidate like Alan West or Herman Cain if given the chance. Like any large organization if you try hard enough you will find a few weirdoes or jerks; kind of like Al Gore’s Dad who was a Grand Wizard in the KKK.
    But on the other hand, it is true that Abraham Lincoln created an Army through a draft in-order to invade their fellow southern states that disagreed with insurmountable taxes and tariffs of their agricultural industry that the North needed and wanted through the cotton, rice, sugar cane and indigo industry. The loud minority group of abolitionist was making an uproar that took hold at the expansion of slavery in Western States. What is never taught in the public school system is the abolitionist did not want the expansion of slaves in the west because they wanted the states to be for free for white citizens. Another miss understanding of history is how the emancipation proclamation was received in the North when it was introduced to congress. Unlike Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln”, many Northerners were concern what to do with free blacks coming to northern states. In fact, Some of the Northern States wanted nothing to do with the call to arms for Lincoln’s army if it was for the sole purpose of ending slavery many Northern States did not think that was a worthy cause for men to die for. They came up with the login to preserve the Union.
    Slavery was not invented by the Confederates it was in existence ever sense the beginning of the start of America. It lasted longer in the North than that of the South. The end of slavery in the North varies between 80 to 40 years before it ended in the South. The End of slavery in the North was not because people disagreed with slavery but because it was no longer needed. When the South Succeeded from the north it was due to their anger of the hypocrisy and self righteous Northern States trying to tell them what to do and put unreasonable punishment on an industry that was needed by the same people and region that was administering the punishment.
    Speaking of hypocrisy, how did the Federal government treat the American Indians, any better than the South treated the slaves? At least the south tried to keep the slaves alive for work. The Federal Government just killed Native Americans.

  • Harry Keeton, Chaplain SCV

    Just for the record and this would be the focal point of the entire conversation and blog aforementioned, Slavery was not the cause of the N/S war, plus, The Northern States were tyrannical in their own rights. That being said, The southern states seceded from the Union based in part and almost fully because of Taxation.. History is a much darker story about the United States and above the Mason Dixon line than most ppl think. I’d give a Rebel Yell if a revolution was to, and it will, begin over Taxes. God Bless America and Southern Pride go Arm in Arm when there’s heritage and not Hate.

  • FLOYD MOORE

    I am a person who is in the process of joining the CCV, I am really disappointed at the remarks made about the organization above. I am 75 yrsof age and very proud of my origional home near Raleigh N.C, I was not raised in the hate that aoppears in some of this writing. Why would anyone object to honoring his decendents? What is wrong with “live and let live”? We could criticize many organizations such as the Masons but what would that accomplish. Lets all just live in peace and harmony as best we can. Floyd Moore

  • Southern by the Grace

    Wayne Hylton, ever heard the saying ‘history is written by the victors’? The revisionist history books are those written from the anti-South perspective. My ancestors, NONE of them, owned slaves or were “aristocrats” or “dandys”. Lincoln was indeed a war criminal and invaded the the southern states committing atrocities the likes of which no-one could have expected. There was a whole lot more to the run-up to the Fort Sumter incident than aggression by the South. And further, the impact of the War of Northern Aggression was the crippling of the South for decades and arguably to this very day. The fawning over Lincoln is what is almost as disgusting as the fawning by the media over Obama. One idiot even likens Obama as being a lanced boil in the US. The ignorant liberals don’t seem to realize that a black man who was a conservative would get more votes in the South than in the North. There are a half dozen black men I would vote for in a heartbeat for President, and they are all conservatives. The bigots that are alive and well today are just like they were 150 years ago, living above the Mason-Dixon line.

  • Wayne Hylton

    I attended a local festival a few years ago in my home town in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The SCV had a table where they sold their revisionist history books, and tried to solicit donations to “set the record straight.” The worst offense was that they were stamping “War Criminal” on five dollar bills. This sickened me.

  • http://none D. Smith

    OK first racism was a fundamental part of society North, South, East, and West in the U.S. of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is not to prove one side right and one wrong it is just fact no revisionist historian north or south has the high ground here.
    In the south slavery was an institution and as much as some people paint a paternal “master” “slave” relationship (which was more common than the very very rare abuser or beating slave owner) these men still sold human beings and for the right money would break up a family mothers from childern and husbands from wives. Thier “beloved” slaves also lived under the threat of death if they should ever leave thier kind “master”.
    So, the benevolent freedom loving North came down and freed these poor innocents right? HA ahh you need to read more than propoganda. A large portion of northern wealth had been built on slave trading and was the foundation for the industrial noth that would come. Also the north benifited greatly from the cheaper prices gained by raw materials from the slave owning south. If a slave did escape the south he could go to the North where he was lovingly accepted welll not in Indiana where Negro immigration was forbidden or anywhere else after Dred Scott (does that ring a bell). Of course there was the Back to Africa movement which proposed shipping freed slaves back to Africa (where they thought they belonged) and buying land there so they could start over again. This is now the country of Liberia. Oh a great of the Back to Africa movement none other than good old Honest Abe Lincoln himself.
    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
    yours truley Abe Lincoln aka the great emmancipator.
    Yet still this stupid diafication of Lincoln continues.
    Lincoln suspends hebeas corpus ( aka the right to a free trial). Institutes the new concept of “total war” dead civillians are ok now. He jails hundreds of newspaper editors and reporters and yet still no one tells the truth.
    Now just to get things straight the ORIGINAL KKK not the current or the one after 1877 was formed in response to the Union Leauges…..ever heard of them?? Probably not but they were more horrible in there destruction, theft, and terror of white and black southerners during reconstruction than the KKK ever was and some Union Leauge supporters actually dressed as Klansman and commited crimes they knew the klan would be blamed for.
    In fact in a 1930′s recording of former slaves done by the U.S. government some actually claimed to have riden with the early Klan to help protect southen homes from Confederate and Union deserters and the infamous Union Leauge members. Look I could go on but just don’t fill your heads with the worst type of hate…Righteous Indignation! Read everything not just what you agree with and then defend your opinion. I am a Jeffersonian free state political thinker and not a Lincoln Federalist. I am not a racist or a nut job. I think the constitution is a great document and should be abided by (it is not) but it is not a holy document. Any document calling a man 3/5ths of a man was not written by the God I worship. Man I said a lot more than I started too. BTW end the slavery in The Sudan and Somalia that exist today!!

  • D Howell

    I think that whoever wrote this article is as full of crap as a Christmas turkey!! You don’t really know what you are talking about and need to get your facts straight before you write something condemning an organization that apparently you don’t know anything about.

  • CR

    If the Civil War was about slavery then why was it that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (which contrary to popular belief did not free any slaves) in late 1862? The War of Northern Aggression had been going on for 2 years at that point. Why was the 13th AoA (which did free the slaves) ratified in 1865 after the war was over?

    I’ll tell you why, the Confederates were putting the Clodhoppers from up north the beating of their lives and Blood-Thirsty Abe was attempting to cause a slave uprising in the South. After the War of Northern Aggression was over, Dishonest Abe decided he wanted to further punish the Southern States by attempting to cause a Nat Turner like rebellion. The fact of the matter is that there were actually more Abolitionist groups in the South, slavery was indeed fading, and the war had nothing to do with slavery other than Abe-dolf Lincoln and the Unionist thugs wanted to ignore the Constitution (which they did), legislatively steal as much as they could from the South (also done), and was in fact much like King George when the South simply wanted their independence.

    @JosephineSouthern: These clowns will never get it.

    @ Mark Potok and the SPLC: Get some integrity.

    @ the Bigoted Southern-Hating Zombies Infesting the Comments: Get a clue.

  • TL

    The SPLC and The SCV, SUV, NAACP and on and on I could go with my list. We need to always keep an eye on eachother.
    I can point to racist remarks in all these groups at one time or another. Gee guy’s at least be truthful to yourselves. I have seen good and bad come from these groups, but is it the groups fault or individules in the groups? It’s not for me to say. There is always going to be someone who has their own ajenda. We all have to be diligent in the watch on any organized group, from the KKK to the US Government.SO, keep it up fellow Americans, its what I love about this country.

  • mco

    Most of the racist hate that I see comes from the SPLC not the SCV..
    just sayin.

  • Harry Allen

    Dude, go to a local SCV meeting, they’re open to the public, and that would put to rest most of the rubbish in this article. As the the Confederate battle flag, hmm remember those northern slave states that the Emancipation Proclamation exempted? read it sometime.

    T.Vincent is right. The Confederacy was not trying to overthrow the American government, it simply declared its independence, as America had done from Britain. And if you look deeper into the main SCV website you will see that the SCV issued an official proclamation condemning the use of the battle flag by hate groups and various other racists. And like T.Vincent, I too have Union ancestors, of which I’m just as proud.

  • T.Vincent

    The SCV is a fraternal organization, not a racist organization! No jgt2598, it is not the KKK! Yes, we are proud of our ancestors who fought for four long years against the Yankee invader!. Membership is limited to male decendents of Confederate soldiers! Our motto is “Heritage, not Hate”! If it will make you feel any better, I also belong to the SUVCW (Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War). We decorate Civil War soldiers graves and are currently planning Sequitennial events! …and no I am from Oregon, not the deep South! SCV member # 568

  • jgt2598

    My point is don’t generalize, that’s exactly what hate mongers like the neo-confeds do, don’t sink to their level or we’re no more relevant then them. When people make statements like “the south claims”, or “the north is” or “liberals think” it assumes that an entire group of people feel one way. This is untrue unless it is in regards to some sort of idea-centered, freely-joined organization (like a political party, or an advocacy group, or even a hate group), so one can say “democrats support…”, or “republicans endorse”, or “the SPLC thinks”, but not “liberals support” because this is no better than saying “all blacks are…” or “all whites are…” So again, my point is, don’t sink to their level.

  • Mitch Beales

    And not all southerners claim that the south is “the cradle of god-fearing christians in this country” Jordan. I think ruben’s point is that the neo-confeds claim this. What’s your point?

  • Jordan Thomas

    Hey ruben. Not all southerners are neo-confeds, be fair, don’t generalize.

  • ruben

    and just think,the south claims to be the cradle of god fearing christians in this country…..what a sick joke they are!

  • Mitch Beales

    Seven score and 10 years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in slavery and dedicated to the proposition that white folks are better than black folks. That’s got a nice ring to it doesn’t it? I wonder if the Sons of Confederate Veterans have considered forming a confederacy with the Sons of Horsethieves and Whoremongers?

  • Ian

    Can we please ban the word “sheeple” from our collective vocabulary?

  • Jonas Rand

    The SCV is not a Neo-Confederate group in particular, but a genealogical Southern heritage organization for people who can trace their family lineage to a soldier in the Confederate military. Apparently, there are some Neo-Confederate racist members, but this is not the purpose for its existence. The Sons of the American Revolution is another one of these organizations.

  • Jonas Rand

    Nazi Germany’s invasion of France cannot be likened to that of the Confederacy by Lincoln. For starters (as Ruslan noted above), France was already a sovereign country and did not “secede” from the invaders’ country (as the Confederacy did). Secondly, Lincoln invaded the CSA because he wanted to maintain the Union’s federal status, and keep the states together, but also because they were treasonous. It is correct that Lincoln did not initially wage war against the Confederacy with the goal of the abolition of slavery. However, the reason the South seceded and created the “Confederacy” was because they feared that Lincoln’s election as president would lead to the emancipation of the slaves. Additionally, there was no parallel to the puppet government in Vichy, or a Dixie Philippe Petain, because the Confederacy was not split between occupied and “free” (I put “free” in quotation marks, because Petain would virtually enforce the Nazis’ policies in South France and the imperial colonies, and he was just a pawn of Hitler).

    @JosephineSouthern What group (that you define as a race) do you think Mark Potok (the author) is racist against? As for your post’s point, Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Imperial Wizard and instrumental in founding the first KKK. The court hearing was, of course, in a time in US history where the Confederates’ policies were basically allowed to be implemented in the South anyway after reconstruction. Blacks were almost constantly persecuted there and still worked on cotton fields, living as lower-caste citizens; if they were unemployed, they were even worse off. The judicial and legislative systems were generally sympathetic to White supremacists and former Confederate traitors. They even went so far as to make Confederate VP Alexander Stephens, yes, the same one who made the speech proclaiming that the CSA’s “corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man”, a US senator. So it is indeed possible that Forrest was exonerated in a US court. However, he founded the Klan, which was a violent terrorist group almost from the beginning, and which he disbanded a long time after it perpetrated its first violent action. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • jgt2598

    “The only racism here is the writer of this article and their sheeple minions.” Really, how is the writer of this article racist? How do you explain this: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed” “In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.” -Source, Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

  • JosephineSouthern

    The only racism here is the writer of this article and their sheeple minions. There is nothing wrong with honoring Gen. Bedford Forest on a license plate. The Fort pillow event was NOT his fault and he was exonerated by Washington DC trial court hearing. Same with the KKK. If we listed Gen Forest sins side by side with Sherman and Grant, Forest would be4 the lesser of the other 2 evils.

  • Jordan

    “Once Again, Racism Rears Up in the Sons of Confederate Veterans” A neo-confederate group that’s RACIST *gasp*. Historical revisionists make me laugh, especially when they claim that the facts (like that the confederacy was founded on slavery, as it said in their constitution) are wrong. Doesn’t detachment from reality make someone certifiably insane?

  • Lucas

    Those who continue to push racism so many years after the civil rights were passed are just desperate for a scape goat for their personal weaknesses. Thy are trapped in the past. But its good when they air their minds because afterwards they will join the rest of human race.

  • Sam Molloy

    Naomi, I think it is indeed time for a revived Gone With The Wind. Maybe in 3D IMAX. Unless I missed something, it is against slavery and racism and historically accurate. It’s also a whole lot better than the plotless computer generated exploding demo derbys that Hollywood is grinding out today.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    There is a huge difference between the invasion of France and the invasion of the “Confederacy.” France did not start hostilities against Germany in the manner that the rebels did at Ft. Sumter. Moreover, France was a sovereign nation, whereas the Confederacy was nothing but a bunch of hypocritical, slavery-loving, Bible-thumping, treasonous dandies.

  • sarah elliott

    Well, SPLC…you do some awesome research and I must commend your morality in making it public.

    I continue to be shocked at this countries regression into times past instead of progression and change to be something new and exciting and BETTER!

    All because of the fear of the color of a persons skin…Nathan Rutstein said,”prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance”. That’s what we’ve got working against us in this society. The answer is EDUCATION.

  • David Spencer

    Great article, as are all of the Hatewatch updates. I believe Robert Von Bargen has it right when he observes that President Obama’s election was like lancing a boil. I pray that the pent-up hate & racism that is spewing out doesn’t result in a national tragedy.

  • buz t

    Way to go little Alec.

  • ROBERT VON BARGEN

    In some ways, the election of Barack Obama has had the same effect as lancing a boil. All the pus is coming out now. By coming out all at once, the toxic racism can be exposed and dealt with in a way not possible before.

  • http://neverdied.blogspot.com Nomi

    I think we can expect a big revival and celebration of the book (Mitchell) and the movie, “Gone With The Wind.”

    Those charming Confederates were like Rhett and Ashley, right?