Attendees at a Sunday gathering noting the birthday of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest said people shouldn't see them as a bunch of sick, silly, retro racists.
"We've been doing this every year to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest. It's a part of all of our history and we think it deserves to be honored," said Ken Muska, a member of the N. B. Forrest Chapter of the Sons of the American Confederacy.
Muska's wife, Becky, kicked in.
"What we are trying to dispel is this image that's been erroneously propagated for more than 100 years by the Northern newspaper," she said. "If they did not print what he (President Abraham Lincoln) wanted printed against the South, he shut them down. He would put throw them in jail if they didn't print what he wanted; anything and everything against the South that was not true. "
The birthday celebration took place in the recently renamed Health Sciences Park, formerly known – and still so by Forrest enthusiast – as Forrest Park.
The crowd marking Forrest's birthday included rebel flag bearing bikers and some costumed "Gone With The Wind" types in Confederate soldier gear and southern belle frocks. The Muskas laughed when I jokingly asked if they would escort me back to my car. One other African American was spotted in the crowd, but like this columnst, she had stumbled upon the event during a stroll.
For the most part, we were greeted warmly and – hopefully – sincerely. But then I put this question to the Muskas: what about people who owned slaves and put them in sweatboxes, as so horrifically displayed in the recent film "Django?" Forrest fought to preserve such practice and more, what is so honorable about that?
Muska replied, "Unless we know we are of royal birth, no matter what race or creed we are, we've been somebody's slave."
"And one of our ancestors owned one of our other ancestors," Becky Muska chimed in, "until we got to the age of enlightenment when we learned that slavery is wrong."
Forcefully, she added, "But what are we going to do about all the slavery going on today in all of the third world countries?"
Her husband joined her. "And what about all the prostitution and sex trafficking we have going on right here in Memphis?"
"YES!" his wife took over, "And that's slavery to me. It's against a woman's will."
I probed on. Nathan Bedford Forrest represents the egregious historic record of American slavery and his invention club, the Ku Klux Klan, became the most vicious social club we know of. Why shouldn't African Americans consider this park offensive and not demand the smelting of this man's monument?
"He got out of it and he asked other people to get out when it became something bad," was the retort. "We oppose the Klan because I don't think it does him justice. It needs to be preserved because it is part of our history. I don't know what else I could say."
Nice people, the Muskas. They gave me some peacock feathers and a bumper sticker for good luck. The event ended peacefully. This time.