Mississippi’s KKK License Plate: How Far Have They Really Come?
Having been born and raised in Mississippi (and living here currently), I’ve been able to experience both the good and bad of it. The good: There are a lot of friendly, courteous, and hospitable people that you can actually get to know (because the pace here is not nearly as fast as that of the rest of the world, although we are getting there). The bad? The state has a past steeped in racism as dark as the skin of its victims. Many Mississippians like to argue we’ve come a long way since then, but just about every time they say that, something happens to let the state and the rest of the world know we have not yet come far enough.
Case in point? The now-freed Scott sisters—who certainly wouldn’t have ever been sentenced to life for an armed robbery where no one was hurt—and probably never would have been charged if they weren’t sistas.
We now have another example of racism rearing its ugly head. This time, it’s in the form of a license plate. That’s right, an interest group known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans is looking to honor one Nathan Bedford Forrest—the first grand wizard of the KKK and a Confederate military leader who many believe led the massacre of black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow in 1864—with a state license plate.
When asked about this plan, Gov. Haley Barbour spoke up and said the plate would not happen. However, when asked to denounce the group and the man they chose to honor, Mr. Barbour refused. Calling Forrest a historical figure, Barbour went on to say, “I don’t go around denouncing people.”
Especially not people that make up a large part of the presidential hopeful’s constituency. Truth be told, we realize when some pundit or talking head takes it too far (which is nearly everyday now) that there is a political market for hate and racism. That market will certainly play in Barbour’s favor, and he’s not looking to part with or anger that crowd, nor has he ever been.
As far as the “historical figure,” Nathan Bedford Forrest has already been honored by the state, having Forrest County named in his honor (the university I attend and am typing this post from is within that county). Why does he need to be further honored? Toward the end of his life, Forrest had a change of heart (of sorts) as far as his beliefs on racism and made a speech addressing a black audience in which he told of his desire for peace between the races, a fact that those who seek to honor the man would most likely point out.
However, when the same argument is made about Malcolm X, who first sought separation of blacks from whites but changed his view after a pilgrimage to Mecca, those who oppose his message choose only to see what he did for the lion’s share of his career as what defines him. Add to that the fact that Malcolm X never killed or massacred anyone, and it becomes clear that who we choose to honor usually has little to do with how honorable they actually are, and more to do with whether or not we agree with their respective causes.
In Mississippi, many like to say we’ve come a long way since incidents such as the deaths of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. If we’d spend as much time making the journey as we tend to do talking about it, our actions and attitudes would speak for themselves.