Mark Potok, Rantt, August 24, 2020
It happened again in Alabama.
A clueless local politician, state Rep. Will Dismukes, a Republican from the white-flight Montgomery suburb of Prattville, attended the annual July birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a brutal antebellum slave trader who made millions in human trafficking, a Confederate lieutenant general who presided over the 1864 massacre of some 250 surrendering black Union soldiers in Fort Pillow, Tennessee, and the first national leader of the post-war Klan.
Then he boasted publicly about it.
On a now scrubbed post on Facebook, he put it like this: “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest [sic] annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!” Fort Dixie is the name given by racist activist Pat Godwin to her home near the majority-black city of Selma, which she describes as “Zimbabwe on the Alabammy.” Godwin and her husband Butch have hosted the party for years.
It wasn’t lost on observers that Dismukes’ appearance at the event — which also produced a photo of him standing behind four Confederate flags — came just a day before the body of Congressman John Lewis, a black civil rights icon who was viciously beaten by police in 1964 on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, was carried in a solemn memorial march across the same bridge. That attack, known to history as “Bloody Sunday,” ultimately led to the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march led by Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others.
While Dismukes defended himself by attributing criticism to “anti-Southern sentiment” — and even went on to question the need for Americans to be “racially reconciled” — he was severely criticized by both Democratic and Republican politicians. One Democratic representative couldn’t “fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrated the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard.” The chairwoman of the state Republican Party found his conduct “deeply offensive.” A Republican state representative wondered why Dismukes would honor “the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings.” The Democratic Party and many other commentators called on Dismukes to resign as a legislator.
Dismukes, the pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, was also called in by Baptist leaders who issued a statement denouncing the “sin of racism” and supporting the “right of people to peacefully protest against wrongdoing.” Within three days of his Facebook post, Dismukes had resigned as pastor.
In the case of Dismukes, who in 2018 claimed a Democratic opponent was being funded by “leftist billionaires” and who has lobbied for “Alabama values,” there now seems little prospect of him leaving his legislative position. Ultimately, most fellow Republicans suggested that it was up to the voters to decide.
But despite all that, Will Dismukes doesn’t look like he’s leaving his post any time soon, and it now looks highly unlikely that other politicians will force the issue. After all, at the end of the day, unhappily, this is still Alabama.