Pondering Pulaski: Contemplating the Klan

Drove from Kingsport to the Jack Daniel’s distillery today, then headed west on U.S. 64 bound for Memphis. We stopped in Pulaski to get a photo of the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and therein lies a tale.

In the days following the Civil War, this nefarious organization was allegedly conjured up by six bored Confederate veterans on Christmas Eve of 1865. The story (at least among white Southerners) goes that the young men really meant no harm in creating an organization with weird names and costumes. Covered with sheets, they pranced around on horseback on winter nights and just happened to notice that their actions scared the superstitious former slaves in and around Giles County.

Yeah. Right.

Somehow baser elements took hold of the Klan (again according to white gentry) and transformed it into a terrorist organization that ruled much of the Reconstruction South and was led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest, former slave merchant and tactical genius for the Confederacy. When he saw that Klan lawlessness might bring more Federal troops to the South, he disbanded the Klan, but, alas, it has never really died.


The building in which the Klan hatched is at 209 West Madison Street–just off the town square–and is occupied by the law office of Rogers N. Hays. Apparently a plaque was affixed to the exterior wall to commemorate the Klan, and someone–bless his or her heart–has taken the plaque off the wall, turned it around, and bolted it back on. You can see it better here:


I think this was noble solution to an interesting problem. Most people would have removed the plaque and throw it in the trash and tried to forget the whole thing. But this person–lawyer or landlord, I know not whom–came up with an elegant way to repudiate the Klan and its evil works.

Pulaski has done its best to deal with its Klan legacy. When the Aryan Nations nitwits first held a rally here in 1989, the entire town shut down. You can read more about what happened here. Tonight, at a restaurant, we saw black and white members of what looked like a football team eating together. The local newspaper has a photo of this year’s Homecoming Queen, an African-American young woman with a white escort.

Pulaski is getting there. We are all getting there.

7 Responses to Pondering Pulaski: Contemplating the Klan

  1. Like much of Germany, Pulaski graces the pages (albeit, perhaps less willingly than some German towns) of one of history’s darker chapters. Residents are stuck because they don’t want to ignore what happened here but they also don’t want to bear this burdensome fiery cross forever. Good work on the plaque and the post.

  2. Matthew Justice says:

    though i will not discuss the origin or true feelings behind the Klu Klux Klan, i feel it important to state that Nathan Bedford Forest had little to do with the clan, he was offered a leadership position in the clan’s infancy, but declined it, though he knew the founding members well.
    also, the Klu Klux Klan was founded in the 1930’s by racist white southerners who concieved this idea from the Kyklos Clan founded in 1865 by Confederate veterans. being ingnorant they couldnt properly pronounce the Greek word “Kyklos”, so they named themselves the Klu Klux Klan as we have it today.
    kyklos means “circle”, so “family circle” would be one of the meanings of Kyklos Clan.
    Kyklos also is the name of a Greek political philosophy, meaning the circle of government. stating the first there is anarchy, then monarchy, and then democracy, and this “circle” continues again with anarchy. the cause of failure for each state being corruption and tyranny.
    both the War of Northern Aggression, and the formation of the clan were fueled by the current state of the Kyklos in the 1860’s.

  3. tennesseeguy says:

    Ah, yes, the old “Nathan Bedford Forrest was too noble to have been connected with the Klan” canard flies again. Every reputable–and that’s the key word here–history book places him at the head of the Klan during a large part of Reconstruction. He did have the wisdom to see that the Klan was getting out of hand, prolonging the presence of northern troops, and thus moved to shut it down, but the damage to his reputation was done.

    Like William Jennings Bryan, Forrest is one of those people in history who lived too long. Had he died in battle and never been associated with the Klan, he would be in the pantheon of Confederate leaders along with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. As it stands, his brilliance on the battlefield will forever be diminished by his shameful actions after the war.

  4. The great Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forest greatfully accepted the HONOR of being the first Grand Wizard of the most noble white organization known to man. General Robert E. Lee was offered the position first, but kindly told them that his duties would not allow him to, but that his friend N.B.F. would be a great leader, and would probably accept it, which he did. We have had 5 U.S. presidents in the Ku Klux Klan so far hopefully with more to come. May God bless the Ku Klux Klan. We are a white Christian organization, we do not allow skinheads/neo-nazis in OUR group.

  5. tennesseeguy says:

    I had to think a long time about approving the post from “Alabama Knight,” but in the interest of open discussion I did so. Two points, one small and one large. First, you have to wonder about someone who can’t even spell the name of N.B. Forrest correctly. Second, there’s a great line that Humphrey Bogart utters in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” that perfectly applies to anyone defending the Klan: “If you think like that, there’s nothing to do but tie you up at night.”

  6. Birth of a NATION a silent movie, watch this movie from 1912 ? please leave your comment. Now i understand why my family left Clarksville, Tn.

  7. John Frederick Philip says:

    Perhaps Pulaski should start celebrating the life and works of its most distinguished son, John Crowe Ransom, winner of the National Book Award for poetry in 1964, as well as other prestigious awards. Born in Pulaski in 1888, Ransom attended Vanderbilt University and later studied at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a founder of the immensely influential “new criticism”, an approach to the reading of poetry that examines the texts of the poems themselves before other considerations, such as historical context. He was also influential as a teacher; his students included Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, and E. L. Doctorow. And he was a kind and altruistic man, beloved by all whom had the privilege of knowing him.

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