This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Nichole Williams, who’s running in Tennessee’s first Congressional district, is not racist, she insists.
You are, for calling her a racist.
Williams, who previously worked in sales, is defending herself against allegations of racism after she posted a photo of herself in a vest emblazoned with the Confederate flag and a patch that reads “Ride with Forrest,” a reference to Nathan Bedford Forrest, “the first Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Being proud of where you come from doesn’t make you a racist,” she wrote in a Facebook post defending her other Facebook post. “Calling someone racist for being proud of where they come from is racist.”
Then, somehow, she made it worse.
“One day, when abortion is federally outlawed and prosecuted properly as murder, it will be considered a FAR greater tragedy than slavery,” she added.
As for celebrating the first KKK Grand Wizard, well, “Where do you think Forrest Gump got his name?” she asked. Forrest Gump is, in fact, named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. “And he was a great man,” Gump says in the novel, “cept’n he started up the Ku Klux Klan after the war was over an even my grandmama say they’s a bunch a no-goods.”
“What you racist trigger happy people don’t realize because I guess you can’t read, is that [Nathan Bedford Forrest] also DISBANDED the KKK when he realized it was being used as a lynch mob,” Williams wrote on Facebook in an exceedingly generous interpretation of what the Klan was and did.
Williams notes, too, that Nathan Bedford Forrest Day is still celebrated in Tennessee (this is true) and that there’s a bust of the man in the state’s capitol (also true). He’s buried in a public park in Memphis that used to bear his name.
But just because Forrest is, for whatever reason, still celebrated in Tennessee doesn’t make him anything less than a racist. He was a slave trader, and early leader of the Klan, though he did, as Williams notes, disavow the organization and call for it to be disbanded later in his life. He’s been blamed for massacring black Union troops at Fort Pillow while serving as a general in the Civil War.
His image in Tennessee has been perennially controversial. A (very ugly) statue of Forrest was doused in pink paint in 2017, and the guy who owned it said he wouldn’t take the paint off. A statue of him in Memphis, erected in 1905, was taken down in 2017 — and the state legislature punished the city by cutting funding for a bicentennial celebration after they took it down.
“Ride with Forrest isn't racist,” Williams wrote on Facebook. “It is recognizing that he was the master of the saddle during the civil war.”Cover: In this Dec. 28, 2017, photo, a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Army general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is splattered with pink paint after being vandalized in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)