Billboard honoring KKK founder on display near Selma bridge on anniversary of historic march
By Rich Schapiro
WelKKKome to Selma!
Within sight of the bridge where President Obama will commemorate the 1965 Bloody Sunday march is a billboard set up by a group dedicated to honoring Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The sign, set up in recent days, invites visitors to see “Selma’s War Between The States Historic Sites.” But it also features a picture of the Confederate flag and an image of Forrest, who was also a Confederate general.
Beside Forrest’s picture is a quote adopted by his men: “Keep the skeer on ‘em.”
In a bizarre twist, the other side of the billboard — a straight shot and about a half-mile east of the Edmund Pettus Bridge — contains a welcome message to President Obama.
“Selmapostherald.com Welcomes President Barack Obama and you to Selma,” it reads.
The Forrest billboard irked several Selma residents and visitors in town to celebrate the events that inspired the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
“It should be taken down,” said Flossie Menifee, 67, who grew up in Selma. “The Ku Klux Klan, the hatred, the prejudice, I think it’s always going to be in Selma.”
Kirsten Muller, of San Francisco, said she was “shocked” by the sight of the billboard.
“It feels threatening because we think of Forrest as the founder of the KKK and that reminds us of the violence,” said Muller, 59, co-founder of international human rights organization Global Exchange.
The head of the group behind the controversial billboard scoffed at the suggestion that some might find it offensive.
“That billboard was put there with positive intent to ask people who come to Selma to explore and enjoy our 19th century history,” said Patricia Goodwin, head of the group Friends of Forrest Inc.
“Does it say anything in the Constitution where a certain faction of people cannot be offended?” she added. “I’m offended by all these people walking around with their pants hanging around their knees.”
Goodwin said she chose the location because it was highly visible to visitors. She insisted that it has nothing to do with the KKK or Forrest’s role in its founding.
Hundreds of protesters seeking to march to Montgomery were beaten with police whips and billy clubs atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7 — a day now known as Bloody Sunday.
Two weeks later, hundreds of protesters reached Montgomery after marching for five days from Selma.
President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination at the polls, on Aug. 6, 1965.