Shakespeare wrote in “Julius Caesar” that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
In this era when we scour history to make it politically correct, even people’s bones are declared evil, dug up and banished.
Officials in Memphis have already removed Confederate monuments, including a statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, from Health Sciences Park.
But now, after a long legal battle, an agreement has been struck for Forrest’s descendants actually to disinter and move the bodies of Forrest and his wife from their graves in the park to a family cemetery.
That’s right: The erasure of history has now extended to the point of digging up and disturbing the decayed remains of long-dead people because modern people don’t like what they did over 150 years ago.
Let me be clear: You don’t have to support preserving Confederate monuments to find this shocking and ghoulish. But it’s also a dangerous path we are heading down when we not only remove monuments but also desecrate graves just to banish people to oblivion.
It’s like something out of the Soviet era, when Stalin would have disfavored people erased from photos in history books.
When you start editing history like this to remove things (and people) we now condemn, you also remove the lessons of history that helped teach us why those things were bad.
Before Forrest’s name is erased from the history books, too, let’s see if there’s something that we might be able to learn from his life if we allow him to be remembered.
Before the Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave owner and trader. Despite what The New York Times tells you, many people condemned that even back then. He was a brilliant military leader, defeating forces far larger than his. But he was also accused of brutality, including slaughtering Union soldiers who tried to surrender at the Fort Pillow Massacre.
Wow, so far, not much admirable to commemorate.
But what about after the war? Well, it gets even worse.
Although he later denied it, he is reported to have joined the fledgling Ku Klux Klan and become the first grand wizard, helping organize the Klan into a terrifying racist army. At this point, the history censors would say, “We don’t need to hear any more! Erase him!”
But wait: His life then took a surprise turn.
Forrest became disillusioned with the KKK and apparently had a change of heart. After four black people were lynched, he wrote to the governor of Tennessee, offering to help “exterminate the white marauders who disgrace their race by this cowardly murder of Negroes.”
In 1875, he gave a speech to an organization of black Southerners, promoting economic improvements for black people and saying he wanted to be a proponent of peace and harmony between the races. During the speech, a young black woman gave him some flowers, and he thanked her and kissed her cheek. This was a dangerous stand to take back then. His racist former followers turned on him fiercely.
You don’t have to forgive the evil he did. But as Christians who believe that nobody is beyond redemption, we can study his life and find a hopeful example of someone who once embraced the worst evil but who did eventually see the light and renounce that evil and stand up against it.
But we can only learn lessons like that from history if we are allowed to remember and study it, both the good and the bad, the evil and noble, all of which can coexist at different times in the same flawed human being.
It’s often said that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Just as we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, we also learn from the mistakes of the past.
That’s why removing memorials to things we no longer approve of is not only foolish but also dangerous if we don’t want to repeat those mistakes. Remember this: A “memorial” doesn’t mean a “celebration.” It just means “this is something you shouldn’t forget.”
The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.