Carter Cemetery is located in Giles County, Tennessee, northwest of Pulaski. In this cemetery lies the human remains of one five-year-old Bedford Forrest Ham, who died in 1911.
He was my great-uncle.
I’d never heard of him before Monday. I find that odd because my father loved to garner attention for himself through storytelling, and a possible connection to the KKK would have made one hell of a good story in his mind.
Pulaski is about a half hour drive from here. For a small town, it has a lot of history. During the Civil War, Union soldiers controlled the state of Tennessee, and Pulaski was a place where former enslaved people could go to be fed, housed, put to work and educated. It was there in 1865 that six former Confederate soldiers formed the Ku Klux Klan because they were bored. Their ridiculous little social club caught the interest of others and soon groups formed elsewhere, but what started as a joke turned into a means of terrorizing former enslaved people and those who sought to help them. Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was elected the first Grand Wizard during a meeting of Klansmen in Nashville in 1867. Forrest was full of himself and loved to brag that he was the nationwide leader of the KKK, as though they were a structured organization instead of loosely affiliated groups of thugs.
This initial wave of Klan terror died back after laws were passed to hold members accountable, but more organized groups rose up in their stead. Then in 1915 the movie, “Birth of a Nation,” was released and with the help of a Georgia preacher, the Klan was back in style. Does any of this sound similar to what’s happening today?
So back to my great uncle Bedford. What does my great-grandparents naming their firstborn after a Civil War general have to do with anything?
It serves to show that this type of hatred has festered for a very long time, and it never really goes away. My great-uncle was born in 1906, between waves of KKK popularity, and yet he was named after its’ first supposed leader. This white supremacy bullshit keeps popping back up whenever someone decides to stir up white angst in order to obtain and retain power. Just as a Georgia preacher did in 1915, so did Donald Trump in 2015.
Divide and conquer. It’s the oldest play in the book. And still the most effective.