The Aiken Chronicles

I’d Rather Be Shootin’ Yankees: Heritage or Hate?

Or Both?

Below is a sampling of the sort of bumper stickers that — aside from romancing perpetual secession and anger over the Civil War — would seem to contradict the “Heritage not Hate” mantra of the pro-Confederate set. One thing that Yankees (upon seeing the menacing bumper stickers, below, directed at them) might not realize is that, among some Southerners, the word “Yankee” and the N-word are interchangeable. It’s one of those unspoken facts of life down South.

For those who aren’t hep on the meaning of the word, “skeered,” it is a new code word among the pro-flaggers. Instead of saying, “I’m a gun-totin’ knuckle-dragging racist, are you?” one can simply say, “I ain’t skeered.”

As one Selma Alabama historian explained:  “Blacks think the saying represents the terrorism of the Klan, and whites think the saying refers to keeping the Yankees off balance.”

It works just like the phrase, “states’ rights,” only, instead of carrying the implied threat of secession, it carries the implied threat of violence. The potential targets of this violence would, of course, be the usual suspects, tomato and tomahto: blacks and Yankess. The beauty of this is that rednecks can joke about shooting Yankees, sans any appearance of racism.

Of course, the purveyors and buyers of these bumper stickers would be the first to tell you — it’s all tongue-in-cheek. It’s a joke, folks. Lighten up. In the next breath, they’ll completely contradict themselves. As one bumper sticker purveyor wrote in his pitch for the bumper sticker (left): (We’uns all know someone who’s skeered don’t we?)

A throwback to an infamous Civil War battle and the Reconstruction era, the idea here is that, if I ain’t skeered, you’d better be skeered, ’cause it means I got a gun and I ain’t skeered to use it. But, again, it’s just a joke. Seriously. It don’t mean nothing.

For those who like a little history with their heritage, the word skeered actually originates from Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate Lieutenant General and former millionaire slave trader from Tennessee, who once said, “Get ’em skeered and keep the skeer on ’em.”

A folk hero among unreconstructed Southerners, Nathan Forrest infamously led the battle of Fort Pillow, for which he was later accused of war crimes for the massive slaughtering of the surrendered African American Union soldiers at the fort — a massacre described by one historian as, “an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct – intentional murder – for the vilest of reasons – racism and personal enmity.”

There has always been controversy over this massacre, with Confederates insisting that Forrest had begged them to surrender, but they refused and, besides, the Union flag was still flying over the fort, therefore the surrender wasn’t official. The survivors and Union soldiers disagreed, as did at least one Confederate soldier — Achilles Clark, with the 20th Tennessee cavalry — who wrote in a letter to his sister immediately after the battle:

“The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”

After the war, Nathan Forrest went on to fight as a guerrilla insurgent against the federal government and even became the first Grand Wizard of the first Ku Klux Klan, reportedly saying of the group’s conception, “That’s a good thing; that’s a damn good thing. We can use that to keep the niggers in their place.”

During the first 50 years after the Civil War, a good many monuments and statues were erected in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Since then, his name has also been given to various schools, a Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter, a state park, a city and a county — not to mention Forrest Gump:

Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.

For those of us who aren’t named after the great Nathan Bedford Forrest, have no fear. There’s a world of things out there (even a baby bib, yee-haw!) to help remind us that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.

An appropriate “Gumpism” for the unfortunate recipient of the above bib — whose parents would aspire to such heroes for their child — would be this: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”‘

One Response

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  1. Corey Meyer said, on December 18, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I have to laugh at the sticker “One Nation Indivisable”…seems to go against the whole idea of southern secession and the War of the Rebellion.

    But what can you expect from “Lost Causers”!!


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