MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama lawmaker is facing sharp criticism, including a call to resign, for participating in a celebration marking the birthday of a Confederate general who was also an early Ku Klux Klan leader.
Rep. Will Dismukes of Prattville on Sunday attended a gathering to remember Nathan Bedford Forrest and posted a photo from the event on his Facebook page. The photo showed Dismukes speaking in front of several Confederate flags.
“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” the Republican state House member wrote in a post that is no longer visible on his public page.
The post came on the same day that the state was honoring the late John Lewis, an Alabama native who served for decades in Congress and had a long record of fighting for civil rights. Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80.
Dismukes – who is chaplain of a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – later posted that it was not his intent to disrespect Lewis or glorify the Klan.
The lawmaker was condemned by both Democrats and Republicans.
Wade Perry, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, called on Dismukes to resign.
“Will Dismukes has demonstrated yet again why he is unfit to hold public office. Americans don’t celebrate racists or traitors. Nathan Bedford Forrest was both. And a founder of the Klan. … It’s 2020 and it’s time for racial extremists like Will Dismukes to go away,” Perry said in a statement.
The Republican House whip later tweeted a statement that, while not naming his Republican colleague, said he could not fathom celebrating a Klan leader.
“I cannot fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrates the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard. And while the body of a civil rights icon beaten by the Klan lies at state Capitol being honored by GOP/Dem leaders from all over the state. This mentality does not rep my party or my faith,” Rep. Danny Garrett tweeted.
Dismukes posted a lengthy statement Monday, saying, “my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.” He said his regret was that it put a negative light on his legislative colleagues.
“I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country,” Dismukes said.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan called Dismukes explanation “shallow in understanding” about why it was offensive to many.
“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision makers of his political future,” Lathan said.
“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African Americans,” Lathan said.