A Tale of Two Klansmen

Supreme Court Justice vs. Nathan Bedford Forrest

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black

The Alabama Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black will be honored with a monument and park in Ashland, Alabama on October 15, 2022.

And he made a very hazardous moral decision. He joined the Klan. (Steve Suitts)

He always believed that you should judge a person by what they do and what they say, not who they associate with. It was a dangerous moral decision, but he was willing to make those kinds of decisions, and I think he was a member for 22 months of the Klan. But no one has ever produced a record of his ever having said or done anything as a member of the Klan which indicated that he, in fact, endorsed all their anti-Black, anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic views. (Steve Suitts)

“Interview from The Gulf States Newsroom’s Taylor Washington with Steve Suitts, Autobiographer on Hugo Black.” (Interview Published October 14, 2022 Gulf States Newsroom)

Unadulterated Hypocrisy.

The complicated legacy of Hugo Black aligns perfectly with the complicated history of the famous General, Nathan Bedford Forrest who once owned my ancestor. Yet, Black is being honored with a monument in Alabama while the world has witnessed the removal of Forrest’s statues. Two primary reasons seem to support the justification for a monument to commemorate Hugo Black. They are according to this interview with his autobiographer conducted by Taylor Washington is he always, “Believed that you should judge a person by what they do and what they say, not who they associate with.” And the second reason is that, “No no one has ever produced a record of his ever having said or done anything as a member of the Klan which indicated that he, in fact, endorsed all their anti-Black, anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic views.”

Moreover, during the interview, it is apparently clear from Suitt’s perspective that Hugo Black did a lot to help Black folks apparently by supporting such landmark cases as Brown Vs. The Board of Education and other efforts that helped poor Whites and Blacks.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest

Forrest’s speech to the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association July 5, 1875.

A convention and BBQ was held by the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association at the fairgrounds of Memphis, five miles east of the city. An invitation to speak was conveyed to General Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the city’s most prominent citizens, and one of the foremost cavalry commanders in the late War Between the States. This was the first invitation granted to a white man to speak at this gathering. The invitation’s purpose, one of the leaders said, was to extend peace, joy, and union, and following a brief welcoming address a Miss Lou Lewis, daughter of an officer of the Pole-Bearers, brought forward flowers and assurances that she conveyed them as a token of good will. After Miss Lewis handed him the flowers, General Forrest responded with a short speech that, in the contemporary pages of the Memphis Appeal, evinces Forrest’s racial open-mindedness that seemed to have been growing in him.

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Speech-1875.
“Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. ( Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man to depress none. (Applause.)

I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.” (Prolonged applause.)

Whereupon N. B. Forrest again thanked Miss Lewis for the bouquet and then gave her a kiss on the cheek. Such a kiss was unheard of in the society of those days, in 1875, but it showed a token of respect and friendship between the general and the black community and did much to promote harmony among the citizens of Memphis.

Having studied General Forrest and his apparent involvement in the Klan, the striking comparison to his record and that of Justice Hugo Black can not go unnoticed. Not only was he considered one of the first prominent White citizens of Memphis to advocate for Black folks, I can not recall one record that anyone has produced to show that he, like Hugo Black, “Said or done anything as a member of the Klan which indicated that he, in fact, endorsed all their anti-Black, anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic views.” And for the record of 22 months of Black’s involvement in the Klan, let it suffice to say that Forrest had no significant longer tenure in the Klan. Yet, the glaring difference, in my opinion, is that it’s a well known fact that General Forrest called for the dismantlement of the Klan after he departed the organization. There is nothing to suggest that Justice Hugo Black did such a thing.

What is this? A monument to honor Black in his home town of Ashland Alabama while a monument to honor Forrest in his home town of Memphis has been dismantled?

At worst, this is hypocrisy. It’s a very well guided attempt to prescribed moral authority upon those whom we choose. I’m afraid that this attempt to project moral authority is as much anti-Christian as anything anti-Christian that I’ve ever seen. This should be rejected with every ounce of Christian Grace. Yet, Christians have conceded the moral authority of Christ to speak truth in a world steeped in relativism. When men attempt to hold moral authority over other men, the only possible outcome is an open display of abhorrent moral hypocrisy. This is why Jesus told the men who wanted to stone the women caught in an act as adultery, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. Then spoke Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: He that follow me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8: 7b-12)

At best, this is a reminder to the Christian of our hope. This is our hope! No man can condemn him whom Christ has set free. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Forrest was redeemed and was counted among the number of those millions of scornful sinners, like apostle Paul, whom Christ saved unto Himself.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption:

In the fall of 1875, while attending a sermon with his wife, a devout Christian he was especially moved by the words of Jesus in Matthew 27:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock,” Jesus says in the passage.

“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Forrest said: “Sir, your sermon has removed the last prop from under me. I am the fool that built on the sand; I am a poor miserable sinner.” (1875)

I will not recall every incident of his conversion story. My brother in Christ, Shane Kastler, M. Div., B.B.A. has done this in his work, “Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption.” It’s an Amazing story of God’s Grace. If you want to know more about how God save sinners, I strongly recommend this book.

Finally, Christ alone holds moral authority. Christians should never grant it to another no matter the current of the culture, the time of the age or the calamity to come. The world is upside down. However, the Cross of Christ is always the lens in which Christians are able to see things rightly and clearly. Satan has truly blinded the mind and hearts of those of this age.

Southernly yours,


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