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Row over proposal to honour former Ku Klux Klan leader

The governor of Mississippi has refused to denounce a Southern heritage group's proposal for a state-issued vehicle license plate that would honour a rebel general who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Haley Barbour, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, said he did not think the state legislature would approve the plate bearing the name of Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest that was proposed by the Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The group wants to sponsor a series of state-issued license plates over the next few years to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War – or in its words, the "War Between the States".

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it was "absurd" to honour a "racially divisive figure" such as Forrest.

He had called on Mr Barbour to denounce the license plate idea.

The governor however did not denounce the proposal, as he said: "I know there's not a chance it'll become law."

Forrest, a Tennessee native, is revered by some as a military genius and reviled by others for leading an 1864 massacre of black Union troops. Forrest was a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard in Tennessee after the war, which ended slavery.

Greg Stewart, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has said he believes Forrest distanced himself from the Klan later in life. Some historians have agreed with him, though others have pointed out that the Klan had already turned violent before Forrest left.