H/T to Joe Long for the link to this history of the conversion of Nathan Bedford Forrest, which begins by explaining just how unconverted the man was:
Nathan went on to become a very successful and wealthy businessman. Though uneducated and “backwoods” by nature, he was a skilled entrepreneur, albeit in an immoral trade. He made his fortune as a slave trader and as a plantation owner, and by the time the Civil War began in 1861, he was worth 1.5 million dollars, an astronomical figure, when considered by today’s standards.
. . . Forrest’s post-war life further soiled his reputation. As Reconstruction commenced in the South, many Southerners resentfully fought against the Northern “carpet baggers” who came down, collected government contracts worth millions, then did little to fulfill obligations. Tensions were high between Northerners, Southerners, and many freed slaves. In 1867 a group of white men in Pulaski, Tennessee formed a group that was meant to be a “protective” squad for Southerners that they dubbed the Ku Klux Klan.
Which means we should vilify the man, right?
The next night, Rev. Stainback went by to visit with Forrest, and they fell to their knees and prayed together. Forrest said that he had put his trust in the Redeemer, and that his heart was finally at peace. The final two years of his life seemed to bear out the truth of his confession. Nathan Bedford Forrest the fierce fighter, gambler, racist, and sinner….was a changed man.
In 1875, Forrest was invited to speak to a black civil rights group called the “Pole-Bearers” Association, a forerunner for today’s NAACP. Though mocked by some white people for appearing, Forrest addressed the black people in love saying, “I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man, to depress none. I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. . . “
. . . At the end of his speech a young, black girl named Lou Lewis presented General Forrest with a bouquet of flowers as a sign of reconciliation between the two races. Forrest accepted the flowers, then leaned down and gently kissed the girl on the cheek, a public act of reverence and respect that was absolutely unheard of for a white man to do in that day. Indeed, Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, was a new creature in Christ.
If you read the whole story, you’ll recognize the complexity of the man even before his conversion. In history and in evangelization, the person is the thing. There are no living, breathing generalizations, and there never were.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.