“No damn man kills me and lives.”
~Nathan Bedford Forrest
“The thought of' the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.”
“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.”
~Carter G. Woodson
I can still vividly recall when I was a bright eyed and naïve freshman in the School of Art at distinguished Wash. U. in St. Louis going to my first Scholars in the Arts dinner banquet. However, in subsequent years the dinner banquet turned into a luncheon for convenience I guess for the old money old folks who weren’t the night owls they used to be. Anyways, the banquet was quite a snazzy and elegant affair …You can tell there were a lot of folks in there who were important and financially vital to Wash U. in general and to the School of Art in particular. This banquet was created to honor those of us who were recipients of the scholarships from the generosity of the donors who were also present. I was the blessed recipient of the John B. Ervin Scholarship…Unfortunately, the namesake/benefactor of my scholarship, Dr. John B. Ervin, the first Black dean in Wash U.’s history, passed away in 1992, 6 years before my debut.
Wash U. definitely shifted my paradigm or worldview…Here I was hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, society’s elite. Vowing to break out the shyness that somewhat confined and restrained me during my high school years, I made it a priority to always make a distinct impression in my college years and beyond. I always carried business cards as well as my art portfolio filled with my latest drawings around to use as conversational pieces as well as networking tools to assist me in my mission to become one of the world’s most famous, greatest and richest artists.
That night I started working my way around the room, grinning and laughing, putting my best effort to be both attentive listener and well read conversationalist forward…I then happened upon a very important donor to the Wash U. School of Art coffers. Although his name eludes me to this present day, our conversation does not and will stay with me as long as I have breath and memory (thank God for blogs!)…
This burly gentleman seemed to possessed a reasonable and welcoming temperament and was indeed very engaging…Somehow we got on the subject of baseball...He started talking about the golden good ole days of the baseball of his youth…Me being a bibliophile and sports fan was no stranger to the names he began to conjure up in our conversation…We talked about our deep mutual appreciation for players like Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb…I can tell he was both impressed and little put off by my well read nature…We then somehow shifted discussion to the American Civil War…And this is where my story takes a turn for the wtf???
I remember telling this big time donor that I was from down the river as in Memphis,TN…The reason to point this out will become very clear soon…This big time donor then began to wax poetically about the 'War Between the States.' It was like he was relishing in every detail of his narrative…
He then said that his favorite figure from the war was Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. He talked about how Gen. Robert Lee, the military leader of the Confederate Army, said that Forrest was his greatest general and soldier. He talked about his genius as a cavalry leader and military strategist. What the problem was and what he failed or rather intentionally omitted to mention in his over gushing praise of ‘the Wizard of the Saddle’ was that the same man was the first ‘Imperial Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan’, the homegrown U.S. terrorist group which was started to intimidate and kill newly free Blacks post-Civil War.
As a matter of fact Gen. Forrest was a notorious slave trader and owner whose office was located on Adams Street in downtown Memphis before the civil war. He was also the leader behind the tragic event now known as the Fort Pillow Massacre where hundreds of Black Union soldiers were cold bloodily murdered through horrible means, buried alive and set on fire, during the Civil War.
It was so surreal that I was momentarily speechless or rather shell shocked that he would be sharing this with a Black man, especially a well read one. However, being the professional and nice guy that I was and still am, I went along with it…I also talked about my own fascination and interest in the American Civil War…After all thank God the right side won for my sake!
Shortly thereafter we parted ways and needless to say we never spoke again…To this day I wonder what was his purpose in professing his love of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to me…To me it would be the equivalent of him telling a Jewish person how much he loves Adolf Hitler…Was he testing me to see how well read, aware or conscious I really was or how I would react or maybe both??? Did he feel that Blacks were inferior and that I was an affirmative action baby who is only qualified or good enough to only serve White folks and not attend highly esteemed and venerable institutions like Wash U.??? I will never know the answer…
Sometimes I regret that I did not speak out right there and then…But maybe it was for the best…It made me realize that race was still an issue in this country, republic…Nevertheless, that night a fire or rather an eternal flame was sparked and shortly thereafter an Artivist will be born…
An Artivist Remembers…The Grand Old School & The Grand Ol’ Wizard: Wash U. & Gen. Forrest
View W.E. A.L.L. B.E. TV Special...The Shame Of A Nation: The Forrest Park Controversy: