Let monuments rest in peace (editorial)

Monday, August 27, 2012
Press-Register Editorial Board

A SELMA monument honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest may be offensive to some people, but removing it from its current site could create a tricky precedent.

Yet this is the goal of community member Malika Sanders-Fortier, who has gathered more than 12,000 signatures using the social change web site Change.org. Ms. Sanders-Fortier plans to bring the petition to the Selma City Council this week.

She is expected to ask the council to remove the 7-foot granite structure from Live Oak Cemetery and keep a group from replacing a bronze bust that was stolen from its top last year. Council members need to tread carefully, with an eye toward how their action may affect similar requests in the future.

There’s no disputing the fact that Gen. Forrest is a complicated and controversial figure in history. He was significant player in the Civil War and even described as a "genius" by historian Shelby Foote in Ken Burns’ documentary "The Civil War."

But he was also a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. And for this, by today’s standards, he might be considered a domestic terrorist. "If Selma wants to be viewed by the rest of the country as forward-thinking, we cannot give in to those who pine for the ‘good ole days’ of the 1860s," writes Ms. Sanders-Fortier on the Change.org web site.

Yes, but neither can Selma ignore what has shaped its past, for good or ill.

The fate of a monument, even one constructed in 2000, shouldn’t be based on a popularity contest. If it’s removed, what’s next — other similar structures on Confederate Circle?

In fact, a cemetery seems to be the proper resting place for the monument. The City Council voted to move it there from its original site at the Smitherman Building, a former Confederate hospital-turned-museum. Moreover, whether it has a bust of the general on top or not shouldn’t change its fate.

If council members want to head off problems in the future, perhaps they could limit what monuments may be erected and where they can be placed. But existing monuments? Let them rest in peace.