We need balance in the commemorative license plate battle

Published 3:34 pm Thursday, February 24, 2011

Were it not for a couple of items before this session of the Mississippi Legislature, you would hardly know that this is the sesquicentennial year of Mississippi’s secession from the Union and the outbreak of the Civil War. …

Here in Mississippi, which was second only to South Carolina in the dash to secede, observances of milestones in Confederate history — if any have taken place — have escaped public notice.

What has gotten a few headlines is an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to place Nathan Bedford Forrest on one of a proposed series of special license plates marking each of the five years of the Civil War.

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When Perry County to our north was divided in 1908, its western half was named for Forrest, who had been a Tennessee slave trader, Confederate calvaryman and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The late historian Shelby Foote ranked Forrest with Abraham Lincoln as one of the two authentic geniuses of the war.

But more than a decade into the 21st century such state-sanctioned recognition of Forrest is unimaginable. …

What is appropriate is a proposal in the Legislature to designate a Civil Rights Memorial Day as a counterbalance to the state’s Confederate Memorial Day. This would be in keeping with earlier legislation that combined observances of Robert E. Lee’s birthday with Martin Luther King Jr.’s.

This mingling of the tragic and the heroic aspects of the heritage and history of all Mississippians is in keeping with the sprit of reconciliation that men and women of conscience have long tried to foster in the Magnolia State.

As for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, serious commemorations and civil discussions of events that forever altered our history should be welcomed as opportunities to learn more about who we were then and who we are now.