In light of the recent controversy concerning the renaming of a public high school that memorializes the first Grand Dragon of the KKK, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is setting the record straight on who Nathan Bedford Forrest was, the atrocities of which he was guilty, and dispelling mistruths about the Klan that are being circulated.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). While it is true that the KKK started as a small, primarily social, organization for a group of young men in Tennessee in late 1865, the KKK quickly turned to perpetrating brutal pranks on African-Americans, and then it turned into an actual terrorist organization targeting blacks and any whites supporting or perceived as supporting Reconstruction. The Klan killed thousands of people, burned down hundreds of schools, and engaged in assassinations, brutal assaults, and rapes. And it did all this, moreover, while Nathan Bedford Forrest was still its leader. This violence continued unabated into the 1870’s.
ADL Florida Regional Director Hava Holzhauer issued the following statement:
“Let’s set the record straight on Nathan Bedford Forrest. Before the war, Forrest was a slave trader. During the war he fought for the Confederacy and troops under his command engaged in massacres of African-American troops. After the war, Forrest became the national figurehead for the Ku Klux Klan. There is absolutely nothing about him that is defensible. And to maintain a high school named after the First Grand Dragon of the KKK sends a message of perceived endorsement of the Klan’s terrorist history. Schools should provide bias-free environments where diversity is promoted, not stained by Forrest’s looming namesake.”
For a complete background on the Ku Klux Klan, please refer to ADL’s online resource: About the Ku Klux Klan.