Republican lawmaker: Confederate military leader and KKK grand wizard was a 'civil rights leader'
Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt (R) [WTFV-TV]

Republican Rep. Andy Holt says the Tennessee legislature is mistaken to consider ending an annual holiday honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest and moving his bust from the state capitol, because Forrest was "one of the South’s first civil rights leaders."

Forrest was in fact the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.

"Through Christ, we are called to believe in and celebrate redemption. When we recognize the life of Gen. Forrest, we are doing just that — celebrating the life of a man, redeemed through Christ, that fought for the rights of black West Tennesseans," Holt wrote this week in an op-ed for the Jackson Sun.

Forrest was known as a ruthless officer for the Confederate army during the American Civil War, according to the History Channel. In what would become known as the Fort Pillow Massacre, Forrest's troops overran Union troops and slaughtered about 200 unarmed men who had surrendered. Many of them were black freed slaves.

The op-ed comes as the Tennessee legislature takes on heated discussions of what to do with a bust of Forrest. The Tennessee State Capitol Commission has appointed a subcommittee to discuss what to do with it after state leaders, including Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, have said the bust should be removed, the Tennessean reports.

"Two years after its founding, Forrest was elected grand wizard of the organization. However, he never dressed in costume. Additionally, no evidence exists showing that Gen. Forrest participated in any Klan activity at all. In fact, only two years after being elected grand wizard, Forrest ordered that all costumes and symbols be destroyed," Holt writes.

But Forrest's activities during the Civil War still permeate his image and it has become a symbol of racist hate, resident Marie Campbell told the Tennessean.

"The fact remains that he has become this legendary figure for people today who are white supremacists and racist, and are continuing to support both violence against black people and policies that result in violence against black people," Campbell said.