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Unlikely advocate speaks out for Forrest

The Sons of Confederate Veterans invited H. K. Edgerton, a black spokesman on Confederate heritage, to speak on issues surrounding Forrest Hall last Sunday in front of the Confederate memorial in Murfreesboro's square.

"We wanted to show that there is more than one side to the picture, more than one voice to be heard in this," said Wayne Wilson, Commander of Camp 33, the Murfreesboro chapter of the SCV.

The invite was in response to a swell of opposition developed against the passage of a Student Government Association resolution to remove the name of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest's name from the campus ROTC Building.

The removal of Forrest's name is a continuation of "Southern cultural genocide" that started after the Civil War, said Edgerton, president of the Southern Heritage 411. The Students Against Forrest Hall have failed to adequately understand Southern history and the role that Nathan Bedford Forrest played in the lives of Southern blacks, he said.

"I was truly amazed at the lack of knowledge that most of the folks have about Nathan Bedford Forrest," Edgerton said. "What they simply do is just holler slavery and say all the black folks in south native America all hate this flag."

Forrest's membership in the Ku Klux Klan and his career in slave trading are two of the main grievances SAFH has cited in their argument to remove his name from the building.

Edgerton, however, said that the earlier incarnation of the KKK played a pivotal role in reestablishing and constructing the South, as well as helping black families.

"If it hadn't been for the Ku Klux Klan a lot of those families wouldn't be here today," he said.

Edgerton listed several names of black soldiers who fought beside Forrest during the Civil War and made counter comparisons of oppression made by the Union in which former slaves where forced to fight at gunpoint.

"This young man who said some of these things about Nathan Bedford Forrest, so very quickly pointed out that General Forrest was into slave trade," Edgerton said. "I want to say this unequivocally, there are a lot of black folks around here in Tennessee whose families would not be alive today if it had not been for general Nathan Bedford Forrest's slave trade."

Edgerton even commented on how many Southern blacks believe that Forrest was the first Civil Rights leader.

"For me, as a black man, knowing full well, and understanding, General Nathan Bedford Forrest was considered the first Civil Rights leader among black folks, not only among Tennessee but across the South America," Edgerton said.

Edgerton's remarks point to a speech made by Forrest during a political rally in 1875. According to a flyer passed out by the SCV, Forrest said to a racially-mixed crowd, "I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want to come nearer to us. ... We may differ in color, but not in sentiment."

Wilson pointed to this speech as proof that, though Forrest was a racist by 21st century standards, he was a man "who can learn."

Edgerton attacked the SAFH for using race and speaking on behalf of all blacks.

"Well, let me tell you something ... I walked 1,606.1 miles across South native America all the way to Texas carrying this flag, and all across this South native America people who looked just like me said one thing: 'Boy we so glad that Johnny finally come marching home," Edgerton said. "We earned a place of honor and dignity under that flag."

Edgerton continued by challenging students at MTSU to look deeper into black Southern history.

"Tell them some real history, talk about the law act, talk about the Buster Act, talk about the compromise of 1850," Edgerton said. "Tell these babies the real truth. If these babies knew the real truth about what happen round here they'd kiss the feet of Nathan Bedford Forrest's grave right now."

At the end of his speech, Edgerton remarked on the Martin Luther King Jr. response to the Confederate Flag. He said that Luther had once remarked to "leave it alone, let's do something about the things we can do something about."

"I don't know any southern blacks who consider Forrest to be the first Civil Rights leader," said Amber Perkins, senior sociology major and a spokesperson for SAFH. "I would have to see what they are talking about to have an opinion about it and the concept and everything."

In response to Edgerton's claims, Perkins said that this is not a black issue - the KKK terrorized black, whites and Jews.

"We are going to look at it from our heritage, and say that Nathan Bedford Forrest was obviously against our ancestors …He fought to [keep them] enslaved."

© 2006 MTSU Sidelines

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