If you can't denounce Nathan Bedford Forrest -- and a Mississippi effort to give the Confederate cavalry general, reputed war criminal and early Ku Klux Klan figure his own commemorative license plate -- you'd just as well secede from the Union.
You'd think that. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, however, is looking like he wants to lead the Union. If Barbour were to win in 2012, the White House might be just that, indeed.
I wonder whether President Obama would have to leave the inaugural festivities through the "colored" entrance?
GIVEN BARBOUR'S tin ear on all matters racial -- and given his "moonlight and magnolias" nostalgia for the good ol' days of the South's bad ol' days -- I don't think that's an entirely unfair question. Let's start with a CNN story on the gubna's license-plate shuck and jive:
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour refused Tuesday to denounce attempts to create a special license plate honoring a 19th-century Ku Klux Klan leader.SO IS Adolf Hitler. I eagerly await Barbour's non-denunciation of some Mississippi neo-Nazi group's future bid for a commemorative plate for der Führer.
"I don't go around denouncing people," Barbour told reporters Tuesday in Jackson, MS.
When asked by a reporter what he thought about the KKK leader in a historical context, Barbour gave a terse response.
"He's a historical figure," Barbour said.
Actually, the CNN report didn't even begin to cover Nathan Bedford Forrest's greatest hits. That Forrest was -- and is -- so revered in the South tells you something Not Good about the place.
In an effort to show you the true breadth of the Mississippi governor's moral cowardice (if not outright moral depravity), let's go to this New York Times obituary of Forrest, circa 1877:
A story is related of his reprimanding a young Lieutenant with such severity that the latter, stung beyond endurance, drew his pistol. Forrest deliberately walked up to him, and using his great physical superiority to the uttermost, literally cut the young man to the ground with his bowie-knife, and then coolly wiping the bloody blade of the knife, mounted, and rode off as if nothing had happened.
It is in connection with one of the most atrocious and cold-blooded massacres that ever disgraced civilized warfare that his name will for ever be inseparably associated. "Fort Pillow Forrest" was the title which the deed conferred upon him, and by this he will be remembered by the present generation, and by it he will pass into history. The massacre occurred on the 12th of April, 1864. Fort Pillow is 65 miles above Memphis, and its capture was effected during Forrest's celebrated raid through Tennessee, a State which was at the time practically in possession of the Union forces. Gen. Sherman had started on an expedition from Vicksburg, in February, through Mississippi; he was to be supported by Gem. Smith with a cavalry column, which, marching from Memphis, was to join him at Meridian. Sherman's march from west to east across the State was so rapidly and skillfully done that it was a mere promenade. The Confederate commander, Gen. Polk, could make no effective resistance to him, but he bent all his energies to preventing the junction of Smith's cavalry column with Sherman. For this purpose he ordered all his cavalry to join Forrest, and intrusted that commander with the task of heading off Smith. This was done most effectually, for the conduct of Gen. William Sooy Smith seems to have been marked from the start with utter inefficiency. His start from Memphis was made late enough to give Forrest time to collect all his forces for resistance; the march of the Union cavalry was an utterly disorganized one, so that when, on the 22d of February, it reached Okalona, 100 miles north of Meridian, discipline seems to have been utterly relaxed. Here Forrest's cavalry met them, and at the first charge the Union forces were practically routed. Everything fell into utter confusion, and Smith had to retreat, pursued by the enemy for 10 days over the wasted country through which he had just advanced. Forrest now saw his opportunity for a raid into the heart of Tennessee. The garrisons there had been weakened by the concentration of forces for the Spring campaign, and he had nothing to fear in the way of a superior force. Late in March he passed into that State, and the route of his advance was marked by outrages and brutalities of the most cold-blooded character. He captured most of the small garrisons on his line of march, in each case summoning the defenders to surrender under a threat that if he had to storm the works he would give no quarter. On the 12th of April he appeared before Fort Pillow. This fort was garrisoned by 500 troops, about half of them colored. Forrest's force numbered about 5,000 or 6,000. His first attack was a complete surprise, and the commanding officer was killed early in the engagement. Still the defenders fought so gallantly that at 2 o'clock the enemy had gained no material advantage. Forrest then sent in a flag of truce, demanding unconditional surrender. While the flag was flying, Forrest's men treacherously crept into positions which they had been unable to take by fight, (a trick they had played at other places,) and thus were in a situation to make the assault which soon followed under every advantage. After a short consultation, Major Bradford, on whom the command had devolved, sent word refusing to surrender. Instantly the bugles sounded the assault. The enemy were now within 100 yards of the fort, and at the sound they rushed on the works, shouting "No quarter! No quarter!" The garrison was seized with a panic: the men threw down their arms and sought safety in flight toward the river, in the neighboring ravine, behind logs, bushes, trees, and in fact everywhere where there was a chance for concealment. It was in vain. The captured fort and its vicinity became a human shambles. Without discrimination of age or sex, men, women, and children, the sick and wounded in the hospitals, were butchered without mercy. The bloody work went on until night put a temporary stop to it; but it was renewed at early dawn, when the inhuman captors searched the vicinity of the fort, dragging out wounded fugitives and killing them where they lay. The whole history of the affair was brought out by a Congressional inquiry, and the testimony presents a long series of sickening, cold-blooded atrocities. Forrest reported his own loss at 20 killed and 60 wounded; and states that he buried 228 Federals on the evening of the assault. Yet in the face of this he claimed that the Fort Pillow capture was "a bloody victory, only made a massacre by dastardly Yankee reporters." The news of the massacre aroused the whole country to a paroxysm of horror and fury. A force of 12,000 men was sent against Forrest, under Gen. Sturgis, who so wretchedly mismanaged the affair that he was utterly routed by him. Another column was sent against him in July, under A. J. Smith, which met with scarcely better success, and the next thing heard of Forrest was when, on the morning of Aug. 18, he made a sudden and daring raid through Memphis, escaping with small loss.
BUT WHO AM I to criticize? Obviously, Mississippi is a place, like the rest of the South, where it really is true that "old times there are not forgotten." This extends to Southerners' license tags.
Too -- judging by election results -- Mississippians obviously think Barbour is a cracker-jack governor, which is fitting on so many levels my head is starting to spin a little.
If only the rest of America had the luxury to "look away, look away, look away" from these ugly ghosts of Dixieland. Tragic ghosts that aren't quite ghosts, being that they're not quite dead.