Forrest – People/Persons

Kennard, Clyde

Clyde Kennard (1927-1963) was a pioneer of attempting to desegregate Mississippi’s higher education system. He was an army veteran and had attended University of Chicago, with significant work completed towards a political science degree, when he moved back home to Eatonville, Mississippi, to help his mother on her farm. He attempted to enroll as the first black student at Mississippi Southern College, now University of Southern Mississippi, originally because it was near his home and eventually in the cause of civil rights. He attempted three times–in 1955, 1959, and 1960–but was thwarted each time by the white power structure determined to keep African American students out of all-white colleges and universities.

Directly after his 1959 attempt to register, Forrest County law enforcement arrested Kennard on false charges of “driving at an excessive speed” and “illegal possession of whiskey,” and despite lack of evidence judge T.C. Hobby found him guilty on both counts. In 1960, he was falsely accused of burglary, and after 10 minutes of deliberation by an all-white jury he was given the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. In Parchman Penitentiary, Kennard was treated brutally and refused medical treatment, which eventually resulted in advanced cancer that killed him at age 36.

Kennard’s story and his mistreatment by the higher education system, the legal system, and the brutal prison system is considered one of the gross injustices of Mississippi history.

Sources:

http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/349/clyde-kennard-a-little-known-civil-rights-pioneer

Zinn Education Project

Dahmer, Vernon

Vernon Dahmer, Sr., (1908-1966) was a businessman and civil rights activist in the Hattiesburg area. He owned several businesses, including a sawmill and store, and he served two terms as president of the NAACP chapter in the local area. Dahmer was very open about his voter register efforts, to the point that he kept a voter registration book in his grocery store and made local announcements over the radio. His most known saying was “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” In response to his bold civil rights leadership, in January 1966 the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his store and home. Dahmer held off the klan while his family escaped their burning home, and he sustained burns and organ damage that killed him the following day.

Former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan Samuel H. Bowers of Laurel, Miss., was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and arson in 1998.

Sources:

http://digilib.usm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/coh/id/15828

http://www.northeastern.edu/law/academics/institutes/crrj/case-watch/dahmer.html

Forrest, Nathan Bedford

Nathaniel Bedford Forrest (July 13, 1821-October 29, 1877) was a Confederate army general and an instrumental figure in the founding and growth of the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest was perhaps the American Civil War’s most highly regarded cavalry and partisan ranger (guerrilla leader). Forrest is regarded by many military historians as the war’s most innovative and successful general. His tactics of mobile warfare are still studied by modern soldiers. Though born in Chapel Hill, Tenn., Forrest County bears his name to this day.

After the war, Forrest settled in Memphis, Tennessee, building a house on a bank of the Mississippi River. With slavery abolished, the former slave trader suffered a major financial setback. He was eventually employed by the Selma-based Marion & Memphis Railroad and became the company president. He was not as successful in the railroad industry as in war, and under his direction the company went bankrupt.

It was during this time that he became the nexus of the nascent Ku Klux Klan movement. Upon learning of the Klan and its purposes of disenfranchising blacks and reestablishing white conservative rule, Forrest remarked, “That’s a good thing; that’s a damn good thing. We can use that to keep the niggers in their place.” Forrest was later acclaimed at a Nashville, Tennessee, KKK convention (1867) as the first Grand Wizard, or leader-in-chief of that organization. In an 1868 newspaper interview, Forrest boasted that the Klan was a nationwide organization of 550,000 men, and that although he himself was not a member, he was “in sympathy” and would “cooperate” with them, and could himself muster 40,000 Klansmen with only five days’ notice. He stated that the Klan did not see blacks as its enemy so much as “carpetbaggers” (northerners who moved to the South after the war ended) and “scalawags” (white Republican southerners). However, violence against blacks by the organization was pervasive.

Because of Forrest’s prominence, the organization grew rapidly under his leadership. In addition to aiding Confederate widows and orphans of the war, many members of the new group began to use force to oppose the extension of voting rights to blacks and to resist Reconstruction era measures for ending segregation. In 1869, Forrest, disagreeing with its increasingly violent tactics, ordered the Klan to disband, stating that it was “being perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace.” Many of its groups in other parts of the country ignored the order and continued to function. Subsequently, Forrest distanced himself from the KKK.

Nearly ruined as the result of the failure of the Marion & Memphis Railroad in the early 1870s, Forrest spent his final days running a prison work farm on President’s Island in the Mississippi River, his health in steady decline. He and his wife lived in a log cabin they had salvaged from his plantation.

On July 5, 1875, Forrest became the first white man to speak to Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association, a civil rights group whose members were former slaves and a precursor to the NAACP. Although his speech was short, he expressed the opinion that blacks had the right to vote for any candidates they wanted and that the role of blacks should be elevated. He ended the speech by kissing the cheek of one of the daughters of one of the Pole-Bearer members.

Forrest died in October 1877, reportedly from complications of diabetes, in Memphis and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery. In 1904 his remains were disinterred and moved to Forrest Park, a Memphis city park.

Controversy still surrounds his actions at Fort Pillow, and his reputation has been marred by his involvement in the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. His remarkably changed views on race in his latter years were quickly forgotten as Forrest became an icon for the Klan and other Southerners. Regardless, N.B. Forrest will always be regarded as a military leader of great native ability, and one who advanced the principles of wartime cavalry deployment and mobile strike capability that has remained in present warfare philosophy.

In recent years efforts have been made by some local black leaders to remove or eliminate some of Forrest’s monuments, usually without success. In 2005, Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey started an effort to move the statue over Forrest’s grave and rename Forrest Park. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, blocked the move. Similar efforts to remove a bust of Forrest in the Tennessee House of Representatives chamber have likewise been mounted.

Forrest’s great-grandson, Nathan Bedford Forrest III, also pursued a military career, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. N.B. Forrest III was killed in action in 1943 while participating in an airborne bombing raid over Germany.

Sources:

Catton. Bruce (1971). The Civil War. American Heritage Press, New York. Library of Congress Number: 77-119671.

Hurst, Jack. Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography, 1993.

Ward, Andrew. River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War. Viking Penguin: 2005.

Wills, Brian Steel (1992). A Fight from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-092445-4.

Gray, Victoria Jackson

Victoria Jackson Gray was a Hattiesburg native that helped lead the MFDP’s challenge to Mississippi’s all white delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1964. Gray also ran on the MFDP ticket for the U.S. Senate seat then held by Senator John Stennis. Gray’s campaign headquarters were located in the Woods Guest House at 507 Mobile Street. Gray began her civil rights activism by organizing literacy classes where she used the Mississippi voter registration form and the state constitution as textbooks.

Sources:

Tusa, Bobs. The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections. http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/crsitdoc.htm

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/adams-victoria-jackson-gray-1926-2006

Fairley, JC

Fairley was the co-owner of Fairley’s Radio and TV Repair at 522 Mobile Street and was the President of the Forrest County NAACP from 1962 to 1966. As president, Fairley pushed for the desegregation of public areas, increased voter registration and business boycotts. He was responsible for the liberation of Clyde Kennard from Parchman Penitentiary, a leader in the Freedom Summer activities, and the leader of the successful 1966-1967 boycott of downtown white-owned businesses for more equitable hiring practices.

Sources:

http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/m340.htm?m340text.htm~mainFrame

http://www.lib.usm.edu/~spcol/crda/oh/fairley.htm

Connor, Peggy Jean

Connor was the owner of Jean’s Beauty Shop at 510 Mobile Street. She served as state Executive Secretary of the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) and Treasurer of the Freedom Summer project in Hattiesburg.

Sources:

Tusa, Bobs. The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections. http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/crsitdoc.htm

Bryant, Curtis Conway

Curtis Conway Bryant, known as C. C., was born in Tylertown, Mississippi, in 1917. Bryant was an active community member and volunteer who soon became a figurehead during the Civil Rights Movement. As a member of the NAACP, Bryant worked under the leadership of Medgar Evers and worked closely with Robert Moses, a SNCC field secretary, often inviting Moses to stay in his home while doing work in the area. Bryant was involved in the effort to eliminate voter discrimination and worked to establish equal employment opportunities for minorities in railroad shops across the country. Bryant is still committed to promoting social justice and continues to preserve and maintain a Civil Rights archive collection.

Sources:

C.C. Bryant Project. “Biography.” http://www.ccbryant.org/Biography.htm