Tuesday night, November 4, 2008, I watched as Barack Obama was elected President. While returns came in from various states, there was television coverage of the crowds gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. There was an interview with Andrew Young and shots of the parishioners singing and praying. I was praying, too. I prayed that Georgia would go from White-Undecided, to Blue-Obama. I felt it would be redemption— of some sort.
Although I’ve lived in Chicago for 29 years, I’ve never been able to get past the shame of being a white daughter of the South, a granddaughter to the Klan— a daughter of the Confederacy. I am the great-great-niece of Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a General in the Confederate Army, famous for his brilliant military strategies— infamous for founding the Ku Klux Klan.
Unlike my brother who lives in Texas, I’m not proud of my great-uncle’s military expertise. Instead, I carry my mother’s shame and sorrow at the connection to a man who was such a powerful and outspoken proponent of hate. I, too, carry her vague memory of sheets found bundled in the attic when she was a little girl in Georgia.
In the South there is a tradition of giving daughters their mother’s, or some other female ancestor’s, maiden name as a middle name. My mother was named Sheila Davenport Forrest, Davenport being her paternal grandmother’s maiden name. My parents went all out and named me Sheila Forrest, a double honor, or double whammy— depending on how you look at it. Being a female “junior” was always awkward. I was Baby Sheila or Little Sheila for most of my life. So in addition to carrying my mother’s first name, I am burdened with the name Forrest. For me, it has always been a heavy load.