Three years ago, the Tennessee state Senate voted of 20-to-9 to keep July 13 a Day of Special Observance marking the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a millionaire slave trader, Confederate general, mass murderer of more than 200 Black Union POWs, and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The legislature did remove a bust of Forrest from the Capitol and Gov. Bill Lee stopped issuing a proclamation on Forrest’s birthday. But Tennessee continued to observe July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, and the lawmakers who voted to keep it bear some responsibility for the actions of Klan members who continue in the loathsome and dangerous tradition of the murdering insurrectionist who was their first leader.
Those lawmakers include State Sen. Joey Hensley, whose district includes Tennessee town of Columbia, where Forrest is buried and where this year’s Nathan Bedford Forrest Day brought some news concerning a current Klan wizard.
At a July 13 press conference, Columbia police reported that 38-year-old Daniel Walls and an unnamed 17-year-old had been arrested for allegedly plastering “bias rhetoric flyers” on three black churches there.
“You have been paid another social visit by the Old Glory Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” the photos show that the flyers read “We have a dark history here and because of you a bright future. BE WARNED race traitors, mixed breeds, communist homosexuals and other walks of Godless degeneracy. The Klan is back and here to stay, so you’d better make amends or stay away.”
On the since-removed website of the Old Glory Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Klub, Walls is identified as its Imperial Wizard. The website features a film clip of Hitler addressing a Nazi rally and numerous photos of current day Klan members and various cross burnings. An online bio reports that Walls joined the Klan in 2009 and joined a succession of chapters, ascending to the second-highest rank, Knights of the Great Forrest, and then the top, the Knights of the Midnight Mystery.
On March 14, 2021, Walls became Imperial Wizard of The Old Glory Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which the Anti-Defamation League reports holds gathering and distributes propaganda in Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Police say that Walls’ propaganda included affixing leaflets to the exterior of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Bethel Chapel AME Church and Faith United Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia on July 9.
Three days later, on the eve of what is still Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, Black and white religious and community leaders gathered with elected officials at Mt. Calvary
“We are not going to be overcome by evil,” Mayor Chaz Molder said. “We are going to overcome evil by doing good.”
Columbia Police Chief Jeremy Alsup also stepped up to the podium.
“As police chief, you never make promises,” he said. “You never say, I’m gonna, get the person who did this. We’re gonna make sure they pay. But I can tell you this, I can promise you that these individuals that work for your CPD are the best of the business. They have been working tirelessly. All I can say in an active investigation is we are close.”
He said that such hate has no place in any community.
“And your Columbia Police Department will make sure we will do our best to keep it from ever coming back.”
The church’s pastor, Kenny Anderson, spoke last. He had seen the flyer when he arrived at the church on Sunday and was still outraged.
“I preach love so much that it’s a struggle for me to mistreat somebody who’s mistreating me,” he said. “You can do a whole lot to me. But when you mess with my family… I got mad, but I prayed and I prayed”
He asked everyone to stand and take the hand of the person next to them and close their eyes. He offered a vision:
“I stood on the mountaintop and I saw men, women, boys and girls, all holding hands, not afraid to look each other in the eye. And I asked the angel, what is this? And he said, this is the kingdom of God. I asked the angel, where is this? He said, it’s deep within your heart. I asked the angel, ‘When is this?’ He said, ‘When all of God’s children learn to love one another.’”
Absent was Sen. Hensley, who later told The Daily Beast that he does not clearly remember his 2020 vote to keep Nathan Bedford Forrest Day a Day of Observance. He said he could not even remember when it was observed.
“Maybe in April,” he said. “We don’t really celebrate it any more.”
But he was clear that wanted to continue it.
“I was for keeping it as a day of observance,” he said, “I was pretty upfront about that. I think that history is important. Nathan Bedford Forrest is an important figure in our history.”
A history of racism and terror and bloodshed. And that is what reverberated when those flyers were glued to the churches.
When Walls was arrested, he was charged with civil rights intimidation and freed on bond pending a court appearance. He told Mainstream Media Tennessee that he had only been putting up recruiting posters for his organization and denied that he is racist.
He apologized to anybody he offended, which seemingly included his employer, the family that owns Peek Pools & Spas—which fired him.
“We were shocked and extremely disappointed to learn one of our employees was arrested in connection with the KKK flyers,” the company said in a Facebook post. “We want to be clear that his actions in no way reflect the values of the Peek family and our business.”
It is fair to ask, however, if Walls’ actions reflect the values of those who chose to continue honoring Klan founder Forrest, a hero to living racists who seek to live out his vision with their hoods and robes and grandiose titles.
Of course, Hensley rejected any suggestion that voting to preserve Nathan Bedford Forrest Day and perpetuate his memory encourages hate.
“I don’t know that that had anything to do with those flyers,” he said. “Who knows why they did that?”