Billboard honors former KKK leader near Edmund Pettus Bridge

Published: Mar. 13, 2015 at 10:37 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2015 at 12:55 AM CDT
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

SELMA, AL (WSFA) - The 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches has put Selma in the spotlight this year, but something else in the city is getting national attention -- and for a very different reason.

Sometime before the 50th anniversary events, the group Friends of Forrest commissioned a billboard featuring confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, riding a warhorse in front of a confederate flag with his signature line, "Keep the skeer in 'em."

President Barack Obama passed the billboard just before crossing the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge to speak in Selma Saturday.

WSFA reached out to Forrest and Friends organizer Patricia Godwin. She refused an interview but candidly blamed the controversy surrounding her billboard on the media.

"It's you people causing the controversy. It's just a billboard, an inanimate object. It's urging tourists to come to Selma to see all of Selma's history," Godwin said.

Godwin wouldn't say when the billboard went up, questioning "does it matter?" She said the motivating factor behind the sign was to advertise Selma's assets.

"We are trying to showcase all of Selma, because Selma is an economically depressed town," Godwin said. "We need to fall back on our natural resources like tourism."

Selma tourism director Ashley Mason says this sign doesn't embody the spirit of Selma. Mason says the community is making strides to bolster tourism beyond civil rights and the Civil War, which are currently the biggest draws to the city.

"There's a lot here that people don't realize what all we have," Mason said. "They come here and they see all of this history and they love Selma."

The billboard isn't alone. The Loyal White Knights of the KKK were also in Selma distributing fliers over the milestone weekend. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group is making a significant effort to circulate the propaganda across the country as well, but it's gaining no leads in membership.

"When you see this trash, put it in the trash," said civil rights activist Rose Sanders. "Keep the scare on them? They need to put the scare on themselves because in the end, nonviolence is going to win this war."

There's no word what company sold Godwin the space or how long the billboard will be up.

Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.