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What would you call someone who appeared at a Black History Month celebration and then proceeded to dismiss Black people? You would call that person United States Representative Harold Ford, Jr. The good Congressman accepted an invitation to speak at a Black History Month program at Lane College in Tennessee. But as we already know from his previous machinations, Mr. Ford did not disappoint in displaying the ignorance, opportunism, and self-hatred that has become customary for DLC Black Democrats who promote reaction under the guise of advocating for change.

Mr. Ford opined that he isn’t “a fan” of Black History Month because he looks forward to the day when it will no longer need to be celebrated. It is unclear what utopian age in the future would make it unnecessary to remember American history. Even if our ancestors’ dreams are realized and we reach the nirvanas of equality and justice we will still need to ponder the past.

The way that Black history is celebrated in our nation does leave much to be desired. Not only do we celebrate our history during the shortest month of the year, but most Americans conclude that they have done their part if they think about Black people once or twice in February. As of March 1 they are off the hook and can go back to being willfully ignorant. Every Black history month we can count on PBS documentaries, and advertisements from fast food restaurants and liquor companies, complete with colorful calendars dedicated to the lives of African kings. The average American has by now concluded that the contributions of Egyptian pharaohs consisted of grabbing a cold brew every February.

But Harold Ford’s political history gives us some indication of his thinking on this topic. He would not be shy about declaring his constituents’ history unimportant. In the same speech he excused himself from his disgraceful vote in favor of the Iraq war and scolded young Black people for not being active enough. Perhaps witnessing the handiwork of cynical politicians has made young people equally cynical. His politics make it easy to dismiss his foolish words but in honor of Black history month an effort should be made to give the good congressman a history lesson. We need go no further than his home state of Tennessee.

Tennessee is the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan and the place that provided a precursor to Klan-inspired terror that lasted for over 100 years. On April 12, 1864 Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest overran Fort Pillow, which was located 40 miles from Memphis. The garrison included 262 Black and 295 White soldiers fighting for the Union. Unfortunately, the policy of the Confederacy was not to take Black soldiers prisoner, but to kill them or return them to slavery. After the surrender few of the Black soldiers were left alive. Black soldiers and civilians, including women and children, were killed by Confederate troops.

“Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops.”

Mr. Ford must certainly remember Fort Pillow because it caused him embarrassment during the 2000 presidential election, all because as William Faulkner said of the South, “The past is not dead. In fact it isn’t even past.” Some southern Whites have in recent years engaged in an orgy of honoring long-dead men who lost a war. It hasn’t occurred to them that the way to emerge from an inferiority complex is not to worship the cause of inferiority. Of course, Nathan Bedford Forrest, killer of Black soldiers, creator of the Klan, has to be one of those remembered in this twisted worship at the altar of evil doing.

Ford came close to making himself a righteous man when he demanded that presidential candidate Al Gore denounce plans to create a memorial to Forrest in Nashville. But when confronted by supporters of the Forrest commemoration Ford backed down and declared, "I don't want to offend the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or anyone else, and the matter is dropped!"

It was bad enough that the Congressman made a statement offensive to any thinking American but to add insult to injury he is also incapable of even being honest. Ford’s record shows that he does not want to offend those who long for the days when White men ruled with an iron fist. Conversely, he doesn’t mind offending Black people at all. As is often the case with questionable political judgment, the culprit is naked ambition. The Congressman has achieved quite a lot at the age of 34 but he wants to be a United States Senator. His calculations have told him that the Sons of Confederate Veterans are not to be trifled with, but the Sons of Fort Pillow can be easily disregarded.

Harold Ford, Jr. is a media and political darling for the simple reason that he goes out of his way to misrepresent the politics of Black America. Because of Ford and his ilk we are forced to hear from the punditocracy that Black people really are becoming more conservative, and that the Black vote is up for grabs. And yet just like clockwork Black voting patterns remain the same and our opinions remain uniform. But the same inane claims will be made this year and probably in 2008, 2012 and beyond.

Because the Congressman’s education is so obviously lacking he would need an intensive crash course. One might tell him that Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist and gun carrying crusader against lynching, was a Tennessean. Student involvement in the civil rights movement had its beginnings in Nashville when Ford’s congressional colleague John Lewis along with other activists such as Diane Nash spoke truth to the powerful. Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding changed American popular music at Stax Records in Memphis. It is a frightening thought but Mr. Ford might even have to be reminded that Martin Luther King was assassinated in Tennessee.

Harold Ford, Jr. should keep attending Black History Month events. Perhaps it would be better if he were not a speaker, however. He might want to spend his time learning about the history of the people he already represents.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in .  Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at


February 26 2004
Issue 79

is published every Thursday.

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