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Alabama lawmaker who celebrated KKK leader resigns from church

Rep. Will Dismukes stepped down from the church where he was a pastor after withering criticism over his appearance at event for Nathan Bedford Forrest.

An Alabama state lawmaker who delivered an invocation at a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, has resigned from the church where is a pastor, officials said Thursday.

Rep. Will Dismukes, of Prattville, stepped down from Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, where he was a bivocational pastor, according to Mel Johnson, lead mission strategist for the church’s association.

Image: Nathan Bedford Forrest
Statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Army general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is splattered with paint after being vandalized in Nashville, Tenn. on Dec. 28, 2017.Mark Humphrey / AP file

Dismukes said Thursday on Facebook that he resigned “not at the request of the church but by choice” because he did not want to see Pleasant Hill voted out of fellowship, NBC affiliate WSFA reported. The post did not appear on Dismukes’ page Thursday night.

Dismukes did not respond to requests for comment.

Dismukes has faced withering criticism over his appearance at the annual event Saturday at “Fort Dixie,” the private home of a Selma woman, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration,” he wrote in a Facebook post that was later removed, according to WFSA. “Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!"

Dismukes’ appearance occurred the day before the body of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis was carried over Selma’s Edmund Pettis Bridge, where he was nearly killed 55 years ago during a march for voting rights.

On Monday, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan called Dismukes’ actions “deeply offensive.”

“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,” he said in a statement.

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis,” Lathan added. “That is the Alabama that we are proud of – showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.”

In an interview with WFSA Monday, Dismukes blamed the backlash on “anti-Southern sentiment.”

“It wasn’t some kind of shot at the passing of Representative John Lewis,” Dismukes said. “I mean that didn’t even really go through my mind, I literally was really just reflecting on a previous day’s events and it was taken in a completely different way that I didn’t exactly see coming and I take responsibility for that.”

He told the station that he has no plans to resign from the state Legislature.