Group Wants KKK Founder Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest on License Plate

KKK leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest touted in Miss.

Feb 10, 2011 — -- The Mississippi division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had its first specialty license plate approved in 2002. The plate has remained the same for eight years, until this year when the group proposed five new designs to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

One of those designs features Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a heralded cavalry leader who also is known for commanding a massacre of black Union Army soldiers at the Battle of Fort Pillow and for being a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is the latter distinction that has some in the state calling for the plate to be denied issuance.

"I think it's offensive," said Derrick Johnson, state president of the Mississippi NAACP.

"We view the Ku Klux Klan as a domestic terrorist organization and they should be treated as such," he said.

The NAACP is planning to send a letter to Gov. Haley Barbour asking that he publicly denounce the license plate and use his office to prevent it from being issued.

Johnson said the plate is offensive to close to 40 percent of the population, which is the percentage of African-Americans in the state.

But supporters of the plate believe Forrest should not be dismissed because of that one time in history.

"It's been said he disavowed the Klan later in life and that puts him in the same category as former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and former West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd," said Greg Stewart, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member.

Both Black and Byrd had early ties to the KKK but managed to not have their careers overshadowed by them.

"If you don't like him, you certainly don't have to buy it," Stewart said.

According to Stewart, money from the purchase of the specialty tags will be used to restore crumbling confederate flags that are housed in the Department of Archives and History.

He hopes the attention being brought to the proposed Forrest design will raise awareness about the group's mission and the history of the Confederacy.

NAACP Leader on KKK Leader License Plate: Don't Honor 'Heritage of Hate'

But Johnson and the NAACP believe a state license plate is no place to honor a man with Forrest's background.

"Our position is that any heritage of hate should not be tolerated in the state of Mississippi nor in any other state in this country," Johnson said.

The design featuring Forrest is being proposed for release in 2014. A vote by the Mississippi legislature would take place in 2013.