Can you guess this soldier? Before the war he was a slave trader and invested in real estate. He fought for the Confederacy for the four brief years of its existence (1861-1865). He was considered by friend and foe alike to be a fierce fighter and brilliant strategist. He was accused of participating in a massacre against black soldiers during the war, but a US commission after the war concluded that he was not responsible. After he surrendered in 1865 he participated in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. Not long after its founding, he resigned and renounced the organization entirely.

He converted to Christianity and led a quiet life in his adopted home town. This former soldier then advocated for formerly enslaved Americans to be admitted to law schools in his southern state, and to be admitted to the bar. In 1874 he told the governor of his southern state that he would personally “exterminate” white people who promoted continued violence against blacks. (Everyone knew this was no idle threat since he had killed dozens of Union soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.) Isn’t this a pretty powerful statement coming from a man who was linked to the founding of the KKK?

Before he died he made speeches to fully integrated crowds imploring racial reconciliation, and after one speech received a bouquet of flowers from a woman who had been a slave, she kissed him on the cheek, and the crowd of black and white Americans applauded him.

When he died, the streets of his hometown were filled with mourners, black and white, who acknowledged his change of heart, matched by his numerous acts of charity.

Do you know who this Confederate soldier is? (I have dropped several hints.) Is any of this information taught in any history class (high school or college) anywhere in America today? If not, why not? Is there any desire on the part of anyone to say, “yes he had been a slave owner and had joined the Ku Klux Klan, but his final years were his best years and we should honor such a change in a man”? Or do we as a nation want to simply ignore this man’s latter history, curse his memory, and erase him entirely—because it’s the politically correct thing to do?